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Are Today’s Designs Bound by the Constraints of Yesteryear?

As part of my ongoing Pedagogical and Phantasmagorical Inamorata Prognostication Engine project (try saying that 10 times quickly), I'm working with Jason Dueck from Instrument Meter Specialties to create a suite of new faceplates for my antique analog meters.

I showed an early version of one of these meters in my recent column, The Moon Is a Harsh Mistress & Malt Vinegar Is a Harsh Corrosive. This meter reflects the number of days until the next full moon.

Yes, I know this meter spans 32 days. Yes, I also know that it would be more common for the full moon to be presented in the center of the dial. The reasoning behind these (and other) decisions will be made clear in a future article. For the moment, I want to focus on the fact that — in this incarnation — the negative values on the left-hand portion of the dial (“-24D,” “-16D,” and “-8D”) are adorned with negative signs, while the positive “8D” value to the right is presented without an accompanying “+” symbol.

Now, I can understand that if all of the values on a meter are positive, there is no need to include “+” symbols everywhere, but what about a meter that is being used to display a mixture of negative and positive values?

Well, it turns out that, in the past, if you had a center-zero meter that displayed some quantity ranging from say -10 to 0 to +10, for example, then it was very common to omit the “+” symbols on the positive 1, 2, 3, 4, 5, 6, 7, 8, 9, and 10 values.

In many cases, in fact, meter manufacturers also omitted the “-” symbols on the negative values, so the faceplate would read 10 9 8 7 6 5 4 3 2 1 0 1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 9 10. This was done on the basis that it was generally understood that negative values would be presented on the left, while positive values would be presented on the right.

To my eye, this form of display has a somewhat stark and overly minimalist quality about it. Personally, I prefer to festoon “-” and “+” symbols all over the place like confetti, so as to ensure there is no ambiguity whatsoever as to what is being displayed. Apart from anything else, it seems to me that a pert little “+” symbol nicely counterbalances its “-” cousin. So, why did the designers of yesteryear omit “+” symbols (and sometimes their “-” counterparts) from their analog meter faceplate creations? Well, Jason explained it thusly:

    Many of these techniques actually came from letter conservation. Way-back-when, most of the meter shops used rub-on lettering. Using only using minus symbols — or only one minus and one plus — meant saving time and characters on your transfer sheets.

Hmm, this does make sense. If one is applying individual characters by hand, I can understand the desire to use as few characters as possible, not the least of it being that fewer characters equates to fewer cock-ups.

To read the rest of this article, visit EBN sister site EETimes.

3 comments on “Are Today’s Designs Bound by the Constraints of Yesteryear?

  1. Daniel
    October 30, 2014

    “In many cases, in fact, meter manufacturers also omitted the “-” symbols on the negative values, so the faceplate would read 10 9 8 7 6 5 4 3 2 1 0 1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 9 10. This was done on the basis that it was generally understood that negative values would be presented on the left, while positive values would be presented on the right.”

    Max, it's a general assumption that values beyond zeros are positive and other side is negative. But may not be true always and depends on case to case. For example, in pendulum system both sides of zeros are counting as positive. In length measurements also the same because there is no negative length

  2. Max The Magnificent
    October 30, 2014

    @Jacob: Max, it's a general assumption that values beyond zeros are positive and other side is negative. But may not be true always and depends on case to case .

    I agree, of course. It all depends on what is being displayed — but if the display were DC Volts, for example, and this ranged from 10 to the left through 0 to 10 on the right, then I'm saying that if the meter manufacturer omitted the '-' and '+' signs (which I personally thing is a bad thing), the operator would assume -10V on the left and +10V on the right.

  3. Daniel
    October 31, 2014

    “I agree, of course. It all depends on what is being displayed — but if the display were DC Volts, for example, and this ranged from 10 to the left through 0 to 10 on the right, then I'm saying that if the meter manufacturer omitted the '-' and '+' signs (which I personally thing is a bad thing), the operator would assume -10V on the left and +10V on the right.”

    Max, thanks for agreeing with the comment. If you are an expert you can judge it's either positive or negative. But for other both side of the numbers resembles the same value; which may leads to wrong reading.

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