The motorcycle ride up Interstate 81 through Pennsylvania and on to Binghamton, New York was delightful although I did not expect to be using Widder electric gloves and vest in June. The ride to Norwich, New York later in the day was much warmer. More on the motorcycle rides (and rain) later. The purpose of the trip was to visit Knovel Corporation, a company for which I serve as a director. I wanted to meet the employees and learn more about what Knovel does and how it does it. I was astounded at how much the team has accomplished and the sophistication behind how Knovel works.
When I entered engineering school in 1963 — yes, forty years ago — I used a slide rule (see Slide Rule Universe if you have never heard of a slide rule) and engineering reference manuals. For many years, reference texts have been crucial and fundamental for scientists and engineers to do their work. As an engineering student, I can remember using such manuals and putting a paperweight on them to keep them open to a particular table I needed to use. The next step would be to copy information onto a piece of paper and then use the sliderule to make calculations. In many cases, it was necessary to first convert the information in the reference tables to a different unit of measure — for example, from feet to meters. I think of the process as the first of three generations of using engineering and scientific data.
The second generation was web-based data with PC’s for replacing the sliderules and calculators. Knovel Corporation (pronounced nah-vil) has introduced the third generation — "Knovelized" data with deep search and a high degree of interactivity. Knovel brings boring reference manuals to life and in the process saves engineers and scientists many hours of effort. It is a good example of an information service that is available "on demand" anytime from anywhere — anywhere having new meaning, thanks to WiFi.
Knovel Corporation makes hundreds of reference texts and databases available online and makes it possible for the data to become dynamic and interactive. Units of measure can be converted, graphs can be displayed and manipulated, selected columns of tables can be printed, structural characteristics of materials can be modeled in real-time, or data can be lifted from the web page and inserted into a spreadsheet for integration with a project at hand.
The breadth and depth of the Knovel subject matter is mind boggling. Ever heard of "Plastics Additives – An Industrial Guide", which contains more than 1,300 plastics additive formulations? I hadn’t. How about "Permeability and Other Film Properties of Plastics and Elastomers"? "Military Handbook – MIL-HDBK-5H: Metallic Materials and Elements for Aerospace Vehicle Structures"? How about "Particle Deposition and Aggregation – Measurement, Modeling and Simulation"? There are 400+ more of them at Knovel with many more to come. I never heard of most of them but there are engineers and scientists out there for whom this reference material is their lifeblood. There are many ways to find data on the web but I dare say there is no place that provides the added value to the data that Knovel does. Their customers agree.
The motorcycle ride from Norwich up Route 12, over route 20, and then up route 8 to my brother’s house in Cassville was great. It was mostly dairy farm country with winding and hilly roads. The ride from New York back to Pennsylvania and then to Connecticut the next day was met with rain, drizzle, fog, wind, and cold (see wind chill). Not exactly what June is supposed to be like.