Over the past few days, I've been enamored with my latest Kickstarter acquisition. The BilletSPIN Pro is a stainless steel top that sits on a tungsten carbide ball bearing. On a polished plate in my kitchen, I've been able to get it to spin for over 6 minutes.
I was asked why the top makes me so happy. It is, after all, just a top. I was asked what it symbolized to me.
It is a simple object. Tops have been around for thousands of years and are one of the oldest toys found in archeological digs. They come in uncounted shapes, sizes, colors and patterns. They do an amazing job of demonstrating angular momentum.
As much as I appreciate the historical, scientific and mathematical properties, I've never really been interested in them. I like things that spin, but tops were always boring.
This one, however, is different. It's heavy, solid and perfectly balanced. It spins. And spins...and spins. After having it for less than a week, I have already conditioned my wife to respond to "Hey! Guess what!" with "it's still spinning?"
I love complex machines. I love things with lots of moving parts working together in harmony. I love steam-punk machines because complex tasks are completed with a series of very simple objects. I love the concept of emergence that comes forth from ant colonies and the human brain. Single pieces with simple purposes working together to create a beautiful harmony.
This top is one of the most simple machines. But it has been moved a step closer to perfection. As tops spin, they loose energy through air resistance or friction with the surface on which they are spinning. The length of time that a top will stay upright is determined not only by the amount of energy imparted to it in the initial spin, but also the friction coefficient with the surface and how cleanly it moves through the air.
The ball bearing on the bottom greatly lowers the friction by minimizing the contact area with the surface while maintaining enough strength and stability to hold up the top. The disc shape minimizes air resistance and the fact that it is machined from a single piece gives it almost uniform density. As it spins, the momentum evens out and it appears as though it is simply standing up straight.
All of this means that it can, under the right conditions, spin for 13 minutes.
There is joy in the creation of complex things.
There is also joy in the refinement of simple ones.
I need to work on finding more joy in simple things, such as being employed. There are hundreds of teachers who are reduced to substituting rather than having their own classrooms. There are hundreds more who don't have jobs at all.
I am thankful that I am employed with a job that pays me well enough to keep a roof over my family and provide them with medical care as they need it. I have colleagues and coworkers that I respect and with whom I enjoy spending time. I have principals who have always been fair and friendly.
As I move into the 2015-2016 school year, many of these will change, but change isn't always bad. Sometimes, change is just the refinement that you need to stabilize your top allowing it to spin forever.