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The afternoon passed quickly and enchantingly. Perry was working on a knee-high, articulated Frankenstein monster built out of hand-painted seashells from a beach-side kitsch market. They said GOD BLESS AMERICA and SOUVENIR OF FLORIDA and CONCH REPUBLIC and each had to be fitted out for a motor custom built to conform to its contours.
“When it’s done, it will make toast.”
“Make toast?”
“Yeah, separate a single slice off a loaf, load it into a top-loading slice-toaster, depress the lever, time the toast-cycle, retrieve the toast and butter it. I got the idea from old-time backup-tape loaders. This plus a toaster will function as a loosely coupled single system.”
“OK, that’s really cool, but I have to ask the boring question, Perry. Why? Why build a toast-robot?”
Perry stopped working and dusted his hands off. He was really built, and his shaggy hair made him look younger than his crows-feet suggested. He turned a seashell with a half-built motor in it over and spun it like a top on the hand-painted WEATHER IS HERE/WISH YOU WERE BEAUTIFUL legend.
“Well, that’s the question, isn’t it? The simple answer: people buy them. Collectors. So it’s a good hobby business, but that’s not really it.
“It’s like this: engineering is all about constraint. Given a span of foo feet and materials of tensile strength of bar, build a bridge that doesn’t go all fubared. Write a fun video-game for an eight-bit console that’ll fit in 32K. Build the fastest airplane, or the one with the largest carrying capacity… But these days, there’s not much traditional constraint. I’ve got the engineer’s most dangerous luxury: plenty. All the computational cycles I’ll ever need. Easy and rapid prototyping. Precision tools.


from ‘Makers’ by Cory Doctorow (2021).
Creative Commons US Attribution-NonCommercial-ShareAlike license 3.0
http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-nc-sa/3.0/

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