Tuesday, 19 December 2017

Useless machine

Over the years I have accumulated many useless machines, everything from disassembled motorcycles to garden implements to power tools. The only common factor is that they don’t work now and will probably never work in the future. In fact they remind me of some of my co-workers when I was employed by the government many, many years ago. But I digress.

So, yes, I have owned (and currently own) a lot of useless stuff, but never have I set out to purposely create something that is completely useless. Until now.

The idea of creating a machine that serves no purpose whatsoever goes back to at least the 1930s (and probably much earlier) when Italian artist Bruno Munari began creating machines that were completely unproductive as a counterpoint to the future and a world controlled by machines. Clearly he fought a losing battle. Since then many have designed and built contraptions that exist for no other reason than to exist; they are there simply because they are there. Kind of like the Kim Kardashians of the machine world. Then in 1952 a guy named Marvin Minsky, working at Bell Labs, created what he called the “ultimate machine”, more commonly known as a Leave-Me-Alone Box, or Useless Machine. It’s sole purpose in being was, when turned on, to turn itself off. Which is a fascinating concept when one thinks about it, raising some pretty interesting philosophical questions.

Of course most folks didn’t think of it as anything but a curiosity and the concept attracted little interest. Then, in the 1960’s, apparently inspired by the television show The Addams Family, a version called “The Thing” was put on the market. But it was a mere flash in the pan and by the 70s both the Addams Family and “The Thing” were history – relegated to late night reruns and the attic toy trunk.

However, for unknown reasons, there has lately been a resurgence of interest, fuelled by the internet (of course), in building these types of useless machines. And after seeing one such post I decided I must build one. It’s not nearly as complex and sophisticated as some out there, but I wanted something simple in the nature of the original 1952 version and its 1960s cousin.

So, using an old cigar box I had lying about, some electronics components left over from other projects, and a small servo motor I cobbled together my version.

8 comments:

  1. LOL. Its purpose may just be to get guys like me to come up with our own useless machine. Great, I'll have another half started project laying around.

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  2. (Critics... there are always critics...) Dave: the pilot light should go out when the finger pushes the switch back to off. ;-) Pat

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    1. Pat - That’s just a battery warning light.

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  3. What a great device for all those who forget to turn off the lights...

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    1. Perhaps I should apply for an environmental grant.

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  4. I'll take 5 of your first Production run.

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    Replies
    1. You have 5 people you want to irate that much? ­čść

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