Nothing Is Useless

March 2, 2010
The Most Useless Machine Ever Caught Your Attention, Now Tell Us What We Can Do to Capture It Too
About the Author

Joe Feeley is editor in chief for Control Design and Industrial Networking. Email him at [email protected] or check out his Google+ profile.

For a quick laugh, check out the Feb. 5 post on our Machine Builder Forum that will direct you to what some have labeled, "The Most Useless Machine Ever."

That might be an accurate description, but since it was posted around the first of the year, more than 600 comments have been added, many of which are suggestions, explanations and ideas about how to make the machine work better. It's still useless, mind you, but it's better.

We shouldn't dismiss this as some valueless exercise, good only for entertaining the stoner community for hours on end. This little event produced suggestions and observations at an automation and engineering level that Machine Builder Nation can appreciate, including electrical schematics and parts lists.

There's even an observation that this machine appeared in comic book advertising 50-odd years ago. That spawned a side conversation about how its design back then likely was all-mechanical, probably a gear train and cam driven off a dc motor. Later designs would incorporate a servo that undoubtedly evolved into today's model, complete with CPU. If I dug around I'd probably have found that thread, too. One post that I liked: "Useless? Absolutely not. It put a smile on my face. Is there a more useful thing on earth?"

So why doesn't this translate as well to big-boy machine automation? We have good success finding those of you willing to talk with an editor who's writing an article. We're finding more of you to be part of our several video series. It tells us we have the right focus on the subject matter that affects your job. But it's been a struggle to crack the code that helps us understand what we need to do to get you to come willingly and frequently to our website to participate in idea exchanges in the Forum or some other venue. A place where the inmates really are running the … umm … program would focus content better than any other driver.

We try to avoid overdoing our attempts to pull you in. When we do, you seem to be OK with that. Is that the only method?

The overall answer is clear. You apparently don't find enough value to justify your time, or you don't think you'll find enough value, so you don't try it. So tell us what the key is. We won't tell anybody. What's the "stuff" that would cause you to visit often?

The roundtables at our annual AutomationXchange are attended by just about every machine builder there. It's a vendor-free period to discuss automation issues with peers. It's off-the-record and reassures many of them that they aren't alone with their problems and challenges. It has the value to justify the time.

So tell us how to bring that same effect to a more-frequent and worth-your-time meeting place at

We can make this our own "Most Useful Virtual Meeting Place Ever" project.