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SATURDAY, MAY 28, 2016
If you grew up in North America, one of the first things you learned as a child are the primary shapes. Square, Triangle, and Circle. I cannot make the same claim for other land masses, as I've never really examined the focus of their early education programs, but I do know that in the new world, we've learn about these three shapes pretty early on. And as we grow older, we learn more about these shapes. How to calculate the interior angles of a triangle, or the length the hypotenuse. How to calculate the area of the circle, or finding the area left over by a square within a circle. Yes, much of our grade school education lies within these three primary shapes. And when we move on to college, it further elaborates on these shapes as we calculate the rate of increase of the area of a circle, as the radius grows. We may take these shapes into the third dimensional world, speaking of spheres, cubes, and pyramids or cones - discovering that slicing the cone at different angles yields different curves: parabola, hyperbola, circle and ellipse.

But in all this, there is one shape we never really discuss. It's a shape we use more often than we use the circle, square or triangle. When the caveman needed to move a giant rock, and so he placed it on a circle - as is my understanding of the invention of the circle - and rolled it on, we heralded this as the greatest achievement ever. But let's be honest for a moment, is it really?

Granted the circle is a mysterious shape, perfect in it's curvature, and yielding that perplexing number pi. It's given rise to very much of our mathetmatical studies, and physics studies - relating the planet orbits to that of a circle, though some are slightly elliptical. But as far as practicality goes - was the circle really our greatest accomplishment?

For anyone who has studied Physics, whether in high school or university, they are aware of how Physics tends to deal with the perfect world. A world without non-conservative forces. A world where energy is not lost, that ropes are massless, and unbreakable. For anyone who has had their car stuck in a deep patch of soft mud, or snow, though - they know quite well that our world isn't perfect. Moreover, if they managed to get their car out of that mud puddle, they've realized an important feature of their tires.

Tires are not circles. Physics may approximate them to be, but unless you skid around corners like you're on ice, the tires of your car have treds. And what is the tredded tire, other than a form of Gear?

And it is the Gear that I've taken a very long time to build up to. The Gear is the greatest shape in the world. The real world, not the perfect world that Physics deals with. The gear is humankind's answer to nonconservative forces. It's our real-world improvement on the circle. Where a smooth circular tire would slip, a well treaded, gear shaped tire will be out in no time. A gear gives us the leverage of applying torque to the circle with greater ease. And yet, the gear goes unnoticed.

But think for a moment, just how great that gear is. You couldn't roll a car on square tires, or triangular ones (though you may be able to climb stairs with them) - and on perfectly circular tires, you wouldn't be able to dig into road, and propel yourself forward. Your forward momentum would lie solely in the hands of friction at that point. Throw some teeth on that circle though, and instantly you're biting down into the earth, applying a direct tortional force on the circle, and launching yourself forward towards the waiting world.

Were it not for these grooved circles, we wouldn't even be able to construct a working automobile, and we'd always be late for our hot dates. Worse yet, we wouldn't even know we were running late, because without gears, we'd have no working watches (unless you sport the digital kind - but really, it's time you grew up and bought a real watch.) Gears are groovy circles.

The other day, when I was in my coworkers office, drawing circles on his white board, I decided to try my hand at drawing a gear. It was no easy task, until I came up with a system of drawing long rectangles in a star shape, then drawing a circle around those rectangles, just shy of the edge. And presto, I had myself a gear. And that's immediately when I saw the magic of this shape - it's really quite complicated when you consider all that is at play in a gear, but if you appreciate a good circle like me, and consider that we couldn't do with circles what we do with gears, you'll begin to understand just how amazing that gear truly is.

It may be less aesthetically appealing, it may be less mysterious than the circle, which offers simplicity as well as complexity, but that gear is nothing short of amazing. What it lacks in aesthetics, it more than makes up for in function.

The gear has long been our unsung hero, and I think we leave the circle to the cavemen. We improved their invention long ago and I'm only left wonder, can the gear ever be improved upon?

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