Tech genes and epigenes

I just finished pulling together the Morse prototype and the Endicott experiment into a single Poser set, released on ShareCG.

Gathering up and debugging a set always stirs thoughts. The obvious thought is that both are experimental setups featuring a sender and receiver and controller.

Here’s a more random and disorganized thought.

Technology and life have genes and epigenes.

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These definitions apply to both life and tech:

A gene is a purpose or skill, expressed as a structure or a behavior. A gene is present and expressed from the start.

An epigene is an choice or switch of purposes or behaviors. It is present at the start but generally doesn’t show up until the organism is under stress. After it switches on, it continues for many generations.

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The Morse prototype had one essential gene which distinguished it from the other phyla of telegraphs. Morse used a binary code sent on a single wire, and the code was formed like language or music, with a complex structure of rhythm. Wheatstone and several other telegraphs were binary codes on parallel wires, capable of faster sending but needing considerably more hardware. Breguet was binary single-wire, using pulse counts instead of syllable-like patterns. Necessarily slower than Morse.

Morse also contained a couple of epigenes, which were present in the prototype but not expressed in practical telegraphy until later. The sender presaged the Linotype, and the receiver presaged punched tape.

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Some automobile companies have obvious genes and epigenes.

Buick’s physical gene was OHV. Present in the very first 1904 runabout, and continued until the ’90s when everything had to become OHC. Buick’s behavioral gene, expressed by GM, was infinite acquisition and brand identities. Buick’s epigene was more superficial: VentiPorts.

Nash’s physical gene was an inline OHV six with seven main bearings. Present at the start, still there in 1987 in the last Eagle. Nash’s behavioral gene was ‘belt and suspenders’ corporate behavior. Never borrow, always save, always invest in the product and the workers before favoring the stockholders. Nash had one tremendous epigene, expressed under the stress of the Depression: Unibody.

Hudson’s innate epigene was an oil-cushioned clutch. Not a fluid coupling or a torque converter, but it apparently made clutching much easier. Hudson’s unique stress-induced epigene was fail-safe hydraulic/mechanical brakes, developed in 1936 and present until the end in 1956. Nobody else copied this extremely important safety feature.

Studebaker didn’t have an obvious physical gene that I can find. The behavioral gene was the opposite of Nash: favor the stockholders over the product and workers. Studie’s tremendous epigene, first expressed in 1938, was Raymond Loewy styling.

Ford’s physical gene, transverse leaf suspension, was not unique at the start but became unique as everyone else abandoned it.  Ford’s behavioral gene was Social Economics. Short hours and high pay, plus community benefits. Ford’s obvious epigene was V8.  The non-obvious epigene was styling.  We admire Studie, but Ford actually set the trends from 1936 to 1966.  GM followed Ford’s lead.

Chrysler’s physical gene was hydraulic brakes, present from the start. The behavioral gene was a milder version of Nash: save more than borrow, favor workers over shareholders. Chrysler’s stress-induced epigene was defined in a negative way. No styling or brand identity at all. Ugly as sin but reliable and roomy.

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