Useless Machines

Another great Wall Street Journal fluff piece. Machines whose only purpose is to turn themselves off:

Video:

http://live.wsj.com/video/better-than-cat-videos-useless-machines/0B262BFC-85DE-46B3-AF69-80FA06573942.html#!0B262BFC-85DE-46B3-AF69-80FA06573942
Actually, they cheated on the video. Many of the devices, while amusing, don’t fit their description. One of them (the “walking” wishbone) is part of one of Arthur Ganson’s kinetic sculptures, which is definitely not a “useless machine”.

Instructables has plans and information on parts kits for the box that shuts itself off. There are usually important mechanical engineering concepts at work in these things, and the fact that they provide entertainment as well makes them not quite useless.

Of course, ThinkGeek sells one.

The basic “useless machine” bears resemblance to the “Hand in the Black Box Bank” that was sold in the 1960s, and is still available today:

http://www.amazon.com/Schylling-MB-Magic-Bank/dp/B00004NKJQ
This isn’t quite “useless”, since it actually performs a minimal function – it scoops up the coin and drops it into the box. But the coin is actually pushing the “on” switch, and the device is turning itself off by removing the coin, so the usefulness is pretty much secondary to the function of shutting itself off. It just gives the box a raison d’etre it would not otherwise have.
Back in the mid-60s they sold these cas “Thing” banks, capitalizing on the character from the then-popular TV show The Addams Family. But the banks preceded the TV show. They were selling these in the back pages of Famous Monsters of Filmland and similar magazines before then.

http://www.samstoybox.com/toys/LittleBlackBox.html
The “hand bank” seemsd to date from after the creation of the “Useless Machine”, so I suspect the bank was inspired by the machine. I guess somebody just had to think up a use for it.

My favourite (can’t visit the links, so sorry if it’s already mentioned) is one called ‘unplugger’ - I think this is a video of it:
www.youtube.com/watch?v=5fXN7x7a5So

Yes, that one’s on the WSJ video. It’s not similar in structure to the classic “useless machines”, but clearly included because its function is essentially the same.

Meh. If they could invent a machine that could plug itself in then I’d be interested.

Interested, and slightly scared.

They exist, and it is scary. Luckily I’m old and probably won’t be around to welcome our new overlords.

I really want this device that writes the time on a piece of paper when you wind it up. It has 1,200 parts and it only costs $342,000.

Perhaps a modern version: Cale Larsen’s A Tool to Deceive and Slaughter.

It’s a black cube that does nothing but sell itself on eBay.

To be consistent with the others in this discussion, they should plug themselves in, then explode.

Ah, thanks. It’s a beautifully poignant bit of futility, I think.

What does it do if you refuse to physically connect it to the internet, or to sell it? Does it threaten you physically, or with legal action?
I could see an I, Robot* scenario developing, with the objet d’art taking its owner to court over some sort of Breach of Contract, or Thwarting of Freedom, sand leading to legal questions about the Rights of Robots.

*Otto Binder’s short story (twice adapted on The Outer Limits for TV), not the later Asimov collection

Useless machine, advanced edition.

It looks like it’s very slow. VERY slow. And it seems to have a lot of trouble just getting oriented to the outlet – it tries and tries and tries and tries and tries to find just the right approach to get the plug to go in.

So I wouldn’t be too worried JUST yet. :smiley:

I couldn’t really see how it gets through a group of people – does it try to move around them, or does it just wait until everybody goes by? In some situations, it could get “stuck” for an indefinite period if a lot of people were coming and going. Definitely easier to just get a human to do your chores.

The buyer is supposed to be legally obligated to connect it to electricity and the internet. Allowing the device itself to threaten legal action would be an excellent idea for version 2.0! Of course, more practically, the current owner apparently paid $7500 for the thing and if it’s not actively trying to sell itself it’s just a boring old cube.

It doesn’t seem to be currently hooked up, though. The last auction ended back in December and a new one hasn’t started.

What CalMeacham said about the hand bank machine.

The first such self-off-shutting machines I saw was one of those, circa 1965. Kid at junior high school was showing one around. Get other kids (me, for one) to put a coin in the slot. (For those who don’t get the picture: The coin doesn’t fall into the box. It just sits there in the slot, mostly still sticking out.)

Hatch opens; hand comes out; hand grabs coin; hand retracts back into box (with coin). Student goes home some number of quarters richer at end of day.

My immediate reaction at the time was that it was well worth $0.25 for the entertainment value.

That one’s in the WSJ video I posted in the OP, too. Although not as long.

Bah! This machine has them all beat.

I was expecting a thread devoted to General Motors products.