Neil's News


20 January 2006

O'Reilly just sent me a complimentary copy of Makers, a book filled with great hardware hacks and the stories of the people who built them. There's everything from self-balancing robots to flame throwers. As well as a certain infra-red mouse trap.

[Photograph of chips] Building hardware is wonderfully fun. I spent my high school years in the basement, constructing all kinds of robots and gadgets. But for the most part I've given that up. Although fun, these devices are limited. They make a great webpage, they inspire awe at expositions, but they are trapped as unique objects. Unless one develops something worthy of mass production, they won't escape the basement. Until desktop replicators are common, cool gadgets aren't going anywhere.

By contrast, software is trivial to replicate. Write an ingenious piece of software and it can spread like wildfire. Make it open source, and people from all over the world can help develop it. Improvements can be pushed out to existing users without a recall. A crash simply means rebooting, not resoldering all the blown components. Letting software run overnight won't wear it out. One never runs out of 'while' loops and has to mail order some more. I choose software.

Though sometimes I miss the smell of vapourising rosin...

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