How to build "The Most Useless Machine"


13 Responses to “How to build "The Most Useless Machine"”

  1. Michael Ryzewic says:

    I have a colleague who would love this, but I’m afraid it would also completely destroy his productivity and lead to extended Exchange outages at his fund…

  2. RedShirt77 says:

    If the machine really turned itself off wouldn’t the finger be stuck against the off switch?

  3. Warren says:

    Huh. I was looking for the build-it-yourself link. Is it anywhere to be found…?

    EDIT: D’oh, followed the link chain on the Frivolous Engineering page…

  4. If you really want to make a derivative machine, have a switch that is really heavy and you have to lift up to turn the thing on.  Then when you take your finger off the switch falls back down to the off position.

  5. TaymonBeal says:

    Wikipedia says this device was originally invented by Claude Shannon. Yes, the same guy who invented both digital logic and information theory. It’s mind-blowing how much stuff he did.

  6. Brett Coulthard says:

    Claude Shannon & Marvin Minsky came up with the idea.

    Mr. Shannon was smart, but dig this:  Issac Asimov described Mr. Minsky as one of the two people he considered smarter that himself.

    Here’s a short clip of the Mr. Minsky talking about the machine:

    And thanks for the great post, Mark!

  7. davnel says:

    When I was a kid (I’m 70 now) my friend and I built such a box. It consisted of a motor, some simple mechanics, a hand and a switch. When you turned the switch on, the hand extended, opening the lid, turned the switch back off, and inertia gave the system enough residual motion to snatch the hand back in. We’re talking about the 1950′s here. No ICs, no microcontrollers, no electroncs at all. Just a simple mechanism and a little finesse. Worked great!

  8. davnel says:

    I also remember that we used an article from Popular Mechanics or maybe Popular Science as a reference. Someone might want to do a little research.

  9. ocker3 says:

    I liked the one that, after a random number of on/off sequences, would start to shake, then randomly move around the table in an effort to get away from its tormentor. 

  10. abiteof says:

    I built one out of Lego (with a bit of help of the Mindstorms kit). was good fun and the reactions of the people who tried it… even better!

  11. A perfect model of Freud’s death instinct  (a concept I use to dismiss, but now fully embrace).

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