Analogue v Digital: Circus Maximus et Circus Minimus

by Scribble Monboddo

We talk a lot about writing around these parts, but here's another thing which has been analogue for umpteen centuries before there was a digital alternative: the art of drawing circles. For a long time, the basic equipment was two pointy sticks and a length of string, which worked well for mediaeval stonemasons; in Wells cathedral, for instance, one can still view the loft where the ornate window tracery was laid out.

As engineers applied their own discipline to the tools of their trade, the more familiar pair of compasses emerged. Most of us used one with a stubby HB pencil at school, although dip-nib versions were also available for proper draughtsmen - my grandfather's is embracing the new whizzy solution below.

Now, if you've ever messed-around with drawing software you'll be well aware that computer programmers worked out how to get silicon chips to wrestle with pi and plot circles long ago, and for serious uses such as computer-aided design the digital route has probably won the race. But it's still good to get some hands-on experience of forming circles for yourself, whether it's just for fun or to develop a new-found appreciation for just how clever your computer really is, and the Makers Cabinet Iris provides a novel way to just that, even marking-off the diameter of the circles it makes.

It takes a little getting used to, and it's a bit of a challenge to centre so would perhaps be a tricky choice for technical drawing, if you wanted to go properly old-school. If you feel like getting experimental and having a bit of a psychedelic doodle, though, it's positively the bee's knees.

If you've ever looked at the iris of a camera mechanism, you already know the principle by which this works. Of course, the results are technically icosagons rather than true circles, but as we've already established that this is not really for technical use it's a lot of fun. Oh, and it's brass and cooler than a steampunk porthole. Say cheese!