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Author Topic: What is quality and why do we think that the Victorians had it?  (Read 697 times)
cossoft
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« on: April 05, 2017, 01:48:03 am »

A recent discussion about Crossness pumping station got me thinking about quality and the Victorians.  The general consensus was that Crossness is an excellent example of Victorian quality engineering, and I guess judging that it’s a successful tourist attraction must mean those views are widely held.

Why?  Why is it considered to have quality and what is people’s opinion on this pumping station:-



My example is more efficient, quieter, cleaner, quicker to repair (due to standardised parts), safer, requires less maintenance and less operators and can probably pump much worse poo than Crossness.  In all likelihood it is fully automated and can SMS an on call guy if there are any problems detected.  There is also a high probability that no one died during it’s construction.  Why do we not extend the same respect to mine?  Crossness has non of these attributes, but does have history and a garishly painted central gallery.  I bet though that the pooey operational parts are a bit browner.

For a counter example consider the German BMW M5, ostensibly one of the best cars in the world costing approximately £75k.  Compare that to a Skoda Octavia costing £17k.  The Skoda from the Czech Republic still encumbered  by ridicule was 7th on the 2016 Power satisfaction survey.  The car from what many would call the home of quality engineering didn’t make the top 150.  Not scientific, but telling nevertheless.  Clearly people are satisfied with their Skodas.  They see them as  better quality than BMWs.

Victorian machinery of which we are interested in here, is thick metal, moves and is heavy.  We still have the notion of saying “if it’s heavy it’s quality”.  We don’t say the same for carbon fibre.  Is the weight or apparent weight, important?  Is it then greed that satisfies us as our brains are fooled into thinking I have more if it’s heavy?  Have we still not evolved as a species to value information or intellectual property similarly?  Clearly Victorians hadn’t undergone the information revolution yet.  It also smells of oil and coal smoke which stimulate senses in addition to touch and vision.  Is it nothing more than psychology and fulfilling our Hierarchy of Needs?  Are all old things of good quality, and new things of poor quality, and can this be anything to do with the mind’s selective recall?  Psychology again.  And if it costs more than my neighbour’s, will I have higher self esteem as proved more successful, and therefore more desirable as a mate to propagate my selfish genes?  Could it be that the brightly coloured Crossness decorations are just cast iron plumage in an architectural mating ritual?

So what do you think is quality?  I’m starting to think that it’s just in the mind and that quality isn’t exclusive to the Victorians.  After all, the plastic Bic biro is immensely successful.
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J. Wilhelm
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« Reply #1 on: April 05, 2017, 08:43:09 am »

Quote
My example is more efficient, quieter, cleaner, quicker to repair (due to standardised parts), safer, requires less maintenance and less operators and can probably pump much worse poo than Crossness.

"Worse poo?" You mean there are different kinds of poo? "Let me tell you, if it was MY poo, not even your modern efficient station could handle it!"

~ ~ ~

It is a conundrum isn't it? The word "quality" is entirely subjective. By all accounts modern post 1990s automibiles last longer and are far more efficient, with engines which tend to last for many more years. But we still long for the heft and comfort of an old 1960s Cadillac.

I think in terms of Steampunk, like in the old cadillac, we long for the materials from yesteryear, because they tended to reassure our sense of permanency. But we have to admit that the engine technology of the past, also tended to wear out much sooner that today's technology and the old will have reliability issues.

If given the choice, would you live in a masonry and brick house, in the early 20th. C. British style, or in a post 1950's American style, wooden stud, stucco and sheet-rock structure like very other American? You can always argue that the modern wooden house is far more efficient at keeping you warm or cool, and therefore your living costs will dramatically be lower than in the brick house. But the price you pay, for such convenience is that the wooden structure is literally a disposable house. Very unlikely to be handed down the generations for too many decades. Where is the "quality." What does that mean?

Using the term "quality" for either is too vague a descriptor. For me quality could mean having both the Victorian form and 21st. C. function. I think instead of using the abstract term "quality" we should be using specific descriptors such as "functional," "practical, "long lasting," "beautiful," "ornate," and so on. I'd like my Victorian House to have the best high tech insulation possible.

In fact that is why we like Steampunk. We like our ornateness, and our material heft, the brass, the wood, the stone and brick, with the conveniences of modern technology. I want my cake and eat it too.

If I have a computer, mine must have a an ornate wooden shell which looks like an antique clock (literally for me that is the case of my desktop PC), as I can't imagine having a grey tin-shelled rectangle sitting on my desk. My boombox, also on my desk, features and old Altec Lansing PC sound system system (from back in the era when Altec Lansing was a "quality name"  Wink ) with two midrange speakers embedded in ornate horns protruding from the subwoofer base which is wrapped in elegant felt and fitted with a real wrought iron handle. The sound it makes is unbelievable. The feast for the eyes is undeniable. That is quality... for me. I'm sure some other bloak might think that it's "ugly" or "goofy" or "too heavy" or whatever.

PS: My poo is made from real quality food  Grin
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Madasasteamfish
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09madasafish
« Reply #2 on: April 05, 2017, 07:33:19 pm »

It's the same reason why something like this:


Illicits a very different response to this:


They both do the same thing in roughly the same way, for the exact same reasons and exist for the same purpose. Yet one is celebrated and revered (to the point where extensive and immensely costly efforts are being made to preserve it, long after the end of its' "useful life") where as the other is treated as something ugly, and unworthy of our attention, or the same consideration. And the comparison is similar to your own between the two pumping stations.

But, put simply (with the examples above) the former has a certain je ne ce quoi about it. It has a personality, and it has a beauty to it, and has the sensation of being alive. Whereas the latter was built according to cost and functionality and seems almost soulless by comparison, and again the same is true with your own comparison.

It's not simply a matter of design or purpose, or function. It's about the way it makes us FEEL. Take for example, brutalist architecture; simple, practical to build and extremely durable, the buildings made a statement that they were there, and were going to be there FOREVER. But people don't like them, they are all too often too dark, oppressive, claustrophobic and without personality and so most of them have been demolished after 30 years or so.

It is within our nature to anthropomorphise inanimate objects, and the kind of drab sheer functionality and uniformity of many modern items robs us of that. A modern railway locomotive for example is just that, a locomotive, nothing more, nothing less. And it always will be, and you could place two side by side and they would barely be distinguishable. Yet an early 20thC steam locomotive has CHARACTER. Yes it has foibles and faults and problems that a modern loco wouldn't have, and is more expensive to run and maintain, yet it would be unique, and easily recognisable, even compared to one its' classmates.
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I made a note in my diary on the way over here. Simply says; "Bugger!"

"DON'T THINK OF IT AS DYING, JUST THINK OF IT AS LEAVING EARLY TO AVOID THE RUSH."
Kensington Locke
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« Reply #3 on: April 05, 2017, 07:35:04 pm »

wilhelm probably nailed it.  The word quality is used subjectively or broadly.

As an engineering type person, when I use the word quality, I tend to refer to :
lacking bugs/problems intrinsic to its design or manufacture relative to its defined goal/purpose
built well for the engineering/manufacturing standards available to the period.

Two companies can make a smart phone, and one can be described as good quality, the other as poor.  Simply for the materials used, manufacturing, and design.

Consider that Apple usually gets praise for its quality on iPhones, and Androids, not as often.  Why?  metal materials giving it a solid feel.  Some Androids feel like cheap crap in your hand (and some don't, but Apples are generally consistent).

In the case of the competing Poo Processing Plants (P3), Crossness gets favored by steampunks because it eptomizes the design interests of steampunk.  It's ornate.  It's got different materials.  It looks old-timey.  The other place should win all sorts of prizes for modern design and engineering, but fails to be "quality" to the design interests of steampunk.  

The same reason an iPhone fails.  Despite my iPhone having a good solid build, it's a closed black box (somebody wrote an article on why steampunks shouldn't like iPHones).  My crappy android work phone is an open box, but that openness makes it feel cheap plastic.

Modern minimalist design tends fails to meet Steampunk design interests.

For me, I would say my iPhone is a quality product.  My android (forget what model, it's older) is not.   Compared to each other, by modern standards, its' obvious.

Now if you gutted either device and rebuilt both into comparable Steampunk casings, both could be recognized as quality to a steampunk for meeting SP design interests.
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Kensington Locke
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« Reply #4 on: April 05, 2017, 07:45:12 pm »

going along the train example that came in while I was typing...

One big difference is that the guy who made the steam engine, just got it to work, and then designed the framing around that and tried to make it look good.  That's why the frond end is the big round boiler front plate.

The attention to detail was around the shape of the necessary parts.


The modern locomotive, was just a streamlined shell over whatever makes it work.  They focused on efficiency first.

So some of that certain something-something is that money/time/effort was spent on the old designs to make it look fancy, yet also show aspects of its engineering/functionality.  Modern design seeks to hide that and make it sleek, smooth, obfuscated and simple.

Now consider, as we see with the modern incarnations of the Mustang and Camaro, that it is totally possible to take older designs and use modern technologies under the hood.

This is what SP usually seems to do to adapt modern appliances into SP working items, obviously.

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Lord Pentecost
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« Reply #5 on: April 05, 2017, 08:41:33 pm »

Firstly I posted Crossness purely as I thought it would appeal to people on here, but it terms of quality:

You state that your example is "more efficient, quieter, cleaner, quicker to repair (due to standardised parts), safer, requires less maintenance and less operators" however taking each of these points you have to consider them in context.

1. More Efficient - Yes it is, however steam engines and steam driven pumps were constantly updated (in the eras they were manufactured) to make them more efficient, I'm sure your modern pumping station would be considered inefficient 100+ years in the future.
2. Quieter - Not necessarily, quieter form the outside due to better sound proofing yes, but inside I'm not so sure, have you ever stood in a modern pumping station with all the pumps going full chat?
3. Cleaner - Yes but again was the best possible at the time.
4. Quicker to Repair - Not necessarily some repairs will be quicker, however god forbid there is a bug in the modern complex control systems, if the control system is more than a few years old it's pretty much going to be a strip out the control and start again as no one will be able to obtain the parts. In the Victorian era parts for a pumping station like Crossness could be readily obtained for many years after installation which is why manufacturers were prepared to offer 50 and 100 year warranties on installations. (Side fact - Kelham Island museum have a 1920's rolling mill engine which is technically still under warranty from Siemens!)
5. Safer - Yes you are right, however, at the time it would have been considered enough to have hand rails around the drops etc.
6. Requires less maintenance and less operators - Yes, however again this would not really have been an issue in that era, it would have been far cheaper (and therefore more efficient from the water companies point of view) to employ a workforce rather than to design and build an automated control system.

In overall in terms of efficiency if you consider each in the time they built there isn't really anything between them.

However, in terms of quality Crossness has the upper hand:
longer design life
far longer working life
manufacturers so confident in the quality of their output they are prepared to offer 50 and 100 year warranties
Maintenance that is in many ways simpler, parts are simple so can be manufactured locally even many years later (as opposed to replacing a whole unit as it has become obsolete)
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cossoft
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United Kingdom United Kingdom


« Reply #6 on: April 06, 2017, 12:08:00 am »

...just got it to work, and then designed the framing around that and tried to make it look good.  That's why the frond end is the big round boiler front plate.

I have to totally disagree on the points regarding the Z57 (Nunney Castle).  Doesn't that sound like a Zeppelin though?  Other than the (not so artistic) name plate over the driven wheels, there is nothing else artistic, decorative or superfluous about it.  The big round boiler front plate is just the biggest possible door to the smoke box for cleaning it.  It's round as that is the most efficient shape for a pressure vessel.  The 4-6-0 wheel arrangement is just the number of wheels they decided to have based on the loading gauge and current Zeitgeist.  There's a functional non aerodynamic cab to keep the elements /smoke off the driver.  The valve gear is no more ornate than on any steam engine of this power, fixed or mobile.  The lubrication system is copper because that's the most appropriate material for the small pipe gauge and the fittings are brass, just as in my toilet today.  This is an excerpt from a design analysis of the Castle class:-

In the original Castle class design to achieve the maximum possible heating surface of the firebox and grate area, the water space between the inner and outer fireboxes had been made narrower than previous standards. This however created problems to effectively clean this gap on boiler washouts. In the '5013' class, this space was increased to normal standards, together with a reduction in the grate area from 30.3 square feet to 29.4 square feet, together with the number of small tubes were decreased from 201 to 197. This reduction did not have any adverse effect on the steaming performance as it was normal practice to run with a deep fire built up in 'hay-cock' fashion, and rather than pure grate area, it was the ability to burn coal economically that gave the Great Western locomotives their qualities.


This all smacks of engineering efficiency and cost control.  Indeed the Castle class are described as Britain's most economical main line units.  We should not forget the the same financial drivers existed in the Victorian days as today.  I wonder if we just prefer to blot that fact out.

I love steam locos,it's just that I'm trying to ascertain why I think they're higher quality pieces of engineering than say a Toyota Prius.  Don't forget that the Prius consumed magnitudes extra design effort compared to the Z57.  Quality seems elusive.
« Last Edit: April 06, 2017, 02:00:50 am by cossoft » Logged
cossoft
Gunner
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United Kingdom United Kingdom


« Reply #7 on: April 06, 2017, 12:10:12 am »

From Big Bang Theory, we know that poo is characterised by the equation:-

f(shape) + f(colour) + f(consistency)

I’m sure the Crossness designers will have been familiar with this equation.  It should be a simple matter (which I leave to the reader) to optimise it for maxima.   Then we can all start talking with specificity rather than just vulgar vagueness...

What idiot started talking about this crap   Huh  ?
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J. Wilhelm
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« Reply #8 on: April 06, 2017, 02:14:53 am »


*snip *

My example is more efficient, quieter, cleaner, quicker to repair (due to standardised parts), safer, requires less maintenance and less operators and can probably pump much worse poo than Crossness.  In all likelihood it is fully automated and can SMS an on call guy if there are any problems detected. 

*snip*


This is the first mention of it.  Grin
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RJBowman
Zeppelin Captain
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« Reply #9 on: April 06, 2017, 04:38:08 am »

There is a modern meaning of "quality", used in industry and associated with quality control specialist W. Edwards Deming. This particular meaning of the word "quality" is not necessarily synonymous with the word "good".

This particular meaning of quality is adherence to a codified standard. The "Deming Method" involves creating a codified list of standards that a product must comply with, which might included weight and dimensions, durability stated in terms of tensile/shear strength and/or crush resistance, material content, etc. Samples of the product are periodically inspected and records are made of any deviation from the standard, and changes are made to procedures to correct for the deviations. Deming put this method into use in Japanese industry during the post-war occupation, and it is credited with making Japan a major economic power in the 20th century.

A friend of mine worked as a franchise store of a pizza delivery chain restaurant. One day the staff was notified that, according to accounting, their shop had failed at quality control; they were putting too much cheese on the pizzas. A corporate quality control person was dispatched to the kitchen to review procedure with the staff, and confirm the proper procedure for measuring the cheese for each pie. Quality was restored; repeat business suffered when customers tasted the new standardised pizza that had less cheese than they had been accustomed to. A "quality" product is not necessarily a good product.

By this definition, did the Victorians have quality? Probably not. But they made good things.
« Last Edit: April 06, 2017, 04:44:22 am by RJBowman » Logged
Prof Marvel
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« Reply #10 on: April 06, 2017, 07:57:40 am »

There is a modern meaning of "quality", used in industry and associated with quality control specialist W. Edwards Deming. This particular meaning of the word "quality" is not necessarily synonymous with the word "good".

This particular meaning of quality is adherence to a codified standard. The "Deming Method" involves creating a codified list of standards that a product must comply with, which might included weight and dimensions, durability stated in terms of tensile/shear strength and/or crush resistance, material content, etc. Samples of the product are periodically inspected and records are made of any deviation from the standard, and changes are made to procedures to correct for the deviations. Deming put this method into use in Japanese industry during the post-war occupation, and it is credited with making Japan a major economic power in the 20th century.

A friend of mine worked as a franchise store of a pizza delivery chain restaurant. One day the staff was notified that, according to accounting, their shop had failed at quality control; they were putting too much cheese on the pizzas. A corporate quality control person was dispatched to the kitchen to review procedure with the staff, and confirm the proper procedure for measuring the cheese for each pie. Quality was restored; repeat business suffered when customers tasted the new standardised pizza that had less cheese than they had been accustomed to. A "quality" product is not necessarily a good product.

By this definition, did the Victorians have quality? Probably not. But they made good things.

I submit that Corporate Drones and Mouthpieces have hijacked the term "quality" and redefined it to "strict adherance to standard" without regard to "goodness" or "customer satisfaction".  Just as Corporate Marketeers and Liars redefined "quality" as "that vague happiness that exists only in this product that I am selling to you".


Once upon a time there was an entire attempt to quantify quality in some magical terms, and the computer & electronics  industry came up with "6-Sigma"  aka "6 9's"  or 99.9999% uptime. ( That's 5.26 minutes of alloweable downtime per year. Total. on a 7x24x365 system ) .

There was much rejoicing!
Quality was identified and measured!
Happiness was at hand!
Vast resources were spent on huge training efforts to teach the Magic Way!
Tens of thousands were trained! millions of person-hours expended! Fancy Titles were conferred!

The holiest grail was to achieve the Six-Sigma Black Belt ( yes, both a meaningless title and a slur to martial arts masters worldwide at once).
Advertising was dispensed extolling the magical virtues of the Emporer's New Clothes!

Then came  The Failures to Deliver, the Spin, the BS, the smoke & mirrors. I won't even bother with the prevaraication, denials and lies.

Now, in 2017 it is a dim memory . Just google "Six Sigma" fail for pathetic ickiness.

So, attempting to define "quality" has some grim history behind it.....

Define "Good"
Define "Excellent"
Define "Outstanding"
Define "Failure"

There is always the parody of the Chief Justice of the US Supreme Court: " I know quality when I se it"

yhs
prof marvel

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chironex
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« Reply #11 on: April 08, 2017, 03:23:53 am »

We know that Victorian production of goods and services ran the full gamut of quality levels from "fit for a queen" to "Welcome to the Zip Tie Drags". (Oh dear, Roadkill is starting to have memetic effects...)
The illusion of widespread high quality is spread mostly by the fact that the best quality items have a better chance at survival than total junk, and those are the most famous; look hard enough, though, and you will see the odd dodgy piece of cr@p.
Plus, of course, you had to have great engineering skill to make steam and clockwork operate; in my business, people just slap things together almost randomly without the first clue what they're making and just let the computer control system measure and adjust itself to suit.
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MWBailey
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« Reply #12 on: April 08, 2017, 07:30:54 am »

It's the same reason why something like this:


Illicits a very different response to this:


They both do the same thing in roughly the same way, for the exact same reasons and exist for the same purpose. Yet one is celebrated and revered (to the point where extensive and immensely costly efforts are being made to preserve it, long after the end of its' "useful life") where as the other is treated as something ugly, and unworthy of our attention, or the same consideration. And the comparison is similar to your own between the two pumping stations.

But, put simply (with the examples above) the former has a certain je ne ce quoi about it. It has a personality, and it has a beauty to it, and has the sensation of being alive. Whereas the latter was built according to cost and functionality and seems almost soulless by comparison, and again the same is true with your own comparison.

It's not simply a matter of design or purpose, or function. It's about the way it makes us FEEL. Take for example, brutalist architecture; simple, practical to build and extremely durable, the buildings made a statement that they were there, and were going to be there FOREVER. But people don't like them, they are all too often too dark, oppressive, claustrophobic and without personality and so most of them have been demolished after 30 years or so.

It is within our nature to anthropomorphise inanimate objects, and the kind of drab sheer functionality and uniformity of many modern items robs us of that. A modern railway locomotive for example is just that, a locomotive, nothing more, nothing less. And it always will be, and you could place two side by side and they would barely be distinguishable. Yet an early 20thC steam locomotive has CHARACTER. Yes it has foibles and faults and problems that a modern loco wouldn't have, and is more expensive to run and maintain, yet it would be unique, and easily recognisable, even compared to one its' classmates.






There's a book called "The Wonderful Writing Machine." It's actually a rather self-serving "history" of the Royal Typewriter Company (the same company that still exists today as "Royal Corp. International," or something like that). Still, it expounds on a number of truths about marketing and such concerns. The one I'm referencing here is somewhat a reiteration of what Mr. Steamfish is saying, as well as a synthesis of his and the Admiral's ideas (pardon my extreme paraphrasing): that in order for a device to be successful, accepted, and possibly revered, it has to develop a following, and that to do so, nine times out of ten (my words there, sorry), the device must match up with the expectations of the public.

Thus, the steam locomotive in the first photo, like the typewriter as represented by the Royal company's various models, is and was popular (Royals are very popular as collectibles for those who are into typewriters. Yes, people really do collect them) and seen as possessing quality of the preferable sort because it meets the aesthetic expectations of the public. The steam locomotive in Mr. Steamfish's example is popular and revered because it embodies all the nostalgia, romance, and expectation that still resides in the hearts and minds of the public in relation to word "locomotive," while the streamlined modern train loco is accepted and depended upon for it's own purpose, because like the steam loco in it's own day, it meets the expectations of the public for that kind of railway powerplant.

And that's the real kicker for this "quality" stuff: that what qualifies as a quality, to-be-revered object changes over time. Sure, right now, the streamlined modern train loco in the second photo is not as  popular with nostalgia freaks as the steam loco - but as time goes by, it will be (proof of concept: there's one HELL of a following for old Diesels, which were decried as "ugly, soulless and unlovable," in much the same way as the ultramodern Bullet train streamliners are today. Especially the very early diesels... and it's absolutely shocking how nostalgia-infected people will fight tooth and nail to preserve an interurban streetcar or vintage subway train); it's just human nature.

The definition of "Quality" is fluid and changeable.
..................................................................................
Hmmm... Zen and the Art of Steampunk Motorcycle Maintenance*, anybody? No, put those tomatoes down! Down, I say! AAGGGHHCKKK!!!

-------------------
*Punny reference to Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance, a book containing anecdotal soliloquizing (that goes on interminably, lol) about the concept of "quality," among other things.
« Last Edit: April 08, 2017, 07:41:50 am by MWBailey » Logged

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