Why Are There So Many Bad Tools?

Page 4 of 7  
wrote:

... and if you're running a virus checker in the background that checks each file before it's opened, the difference is more significant.
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Silvan wrote:

I remember when there wasn't 80 gig of magnetic or electronic storage on the entire planet. I remember when a 1 gig shop filled a couple of floors of a large building.
My new laptop outperforms supercomputers that cost tens of millions of dollars 20 years ago.

Moore's Law at work. Eventually they'll start hitting hard limits and the pace of performance improvement will slow or stop. Right now development is in the rapid-growth phase of the curve, kind of like aerospace was between around 1920 to 1970, during which time they went from wooden biplanes to footprints on the Moon, and even figured out one way to build a starship. Since 1970 flight performance hasn't changed a great deal. Stealth and so on are new, but they are peripheral to flight performance.

--
--John
Reply to jclarke at ae tee tee global dot net
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On Thu, 25 Nov 2004 20:02:56 -0500, "J. Clarke"

Right now they're hitting hard temperature limits.
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<snip irrelevant woodworking discusccion>

About 8 years ago I was driving my youngster to preschool and giving her the "Back in my day. . ." talk. After winning her pity for having grown up without phones that weren't tethered to the wall and cartoons only on Saturday mornings, I explained that in my younger days computers were as big as the house we were passing. Without missing a beat, she wondered, "How did you get it out of the store?"
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*Newbie*!! 'Way back when' $10/megabyte was a _good_ price. I shopped long and hard, before laying out US$400 for a 40mb drive (ST 251-1).
<grin>
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Ha! You sound like you're just about my era. 1989, the hard drive in my first computer was an 80 megger and it cost me $800.00. First time I upgraded my ram, I went from one megabyte onboard to 4 megs. Cost me $500.00.
Soon as I find a way to send all my four year old defunct hardware back 10-15 years, I'm gonna retire on the profit that I would have sold it for. Of course, that hardware will include a note to invest in that stupid new computer company called Microsoft. :)
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wrote:

Well, *I* had one of the original Compaqs, a "portable" that looked like a sewing machine and weighed 35 lbs. It came with one floppy drive standard. I added a second for extra "disk storage," for the modest price of $450.
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wrote:

floppy drives and running everything off a command prompt- unless you were ambitious and made a menu for your programs. A lot of times, you couldn't find programs for the sucker, so it was easier and more useful to get the magazines with printed copies of source code and type them in line by line. It was really funny (in retrospect) how I would argue with my friends over the merits of Hi-Res Vs. Lo-Res. I can print letters smaller than a Hi-Res pixel today.
However, a computer is not a woodworking tool (unless you count forums like this) Granted, the tools today may have a whole lot more features and gizmos stuck to them, but I'd take an old piece of iron over a piece of plastic anyday when choosing what I'd want to hold a cutting surface spinning at several thousand RPMs. Some of you guys have some very good points about the newer tools, but it still doesn't seem to me like they make them like they used to...
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Prometheus responds:

They don't. In some cases, that's good. In others, that's bad. Can you imagine your great-granddaddy and Lie-Nielsen planes, or Veritas planes, though? Can you imagine him picking up and using a 14.4 volt cordless DeWalt drill? Lots of plastic in the latter, and almost none in the two former examples.
Charlie Self "Giving every man a vote has no more made men wise and free than Christianity has made them good." H. L. Mencken
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On 26 Nov 2004 23:14:08 GMT, snipped-for-privacy@aol.comnotforme (Charlie Self) wrote:

The other thing is that Grandpa wouldn't have had nearly the variety or number of tools that we expect today.
This is quite literally true. My grandfather, who died during WWII, was a carpenter/cabinetmaker/handyman. (It was the Depression and you did what you had to.) We've still got a simple walnut chest of drawers he made. We also have, or had, all of his tools.
There weren't many of them. He had three or four saws, three or four wooden planes, a lathing hatchet, hammer, measuring rules and a few other things. Most of it was housed in a long wooden tote.
My brother, who is also a carpenter/handyman needs a van to haul around all his tools. He is extremely skilled and a good craftsman, but he has to produce more faster than my grandfather did to stay competitive.
--RC
Sleep? Isn't that a totally inadequate substitute for caffine?
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On 26 Nov 2004 23:14:08 GMT, snipped-for-privacy@aol.comnotforme (Charlie Self) wrote:

I imagine the former would've been treated with a bit of scorn because of the price, and the latter would have been hailed as almost magical. Of course, those are first impressions- I wonder how those perceptions might change when the DeWalt's batteries died after 3 or 4 years, and the replacement cost almost as much as a new drill... somehow I can't see a guy in the depression thinking it's all right to just toss out a quality tool because of one part. Don't get me wrong, I like DeWalt, and my 18v. cordless is a real trooper- but I certainly don't imagine it would outlive a Vertias plane in any situation. As far as quality goes, DeWalt is awesome when it's new, but I'm not going to hold my breath and wait for any of them to be around in 50 years like some of the older power tools! OTOH, I'd imagine a lot of the high-end planes around will be worthy of museums in a hundred years...

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On Fri, 26 Nov 2004 15:15:30 -0600, Prometheus

... and that's been true ever since there's been a used to. :-) I can hear it: "These Clovis points just aren't as good as the ones my father used. Heck, I remember they'dpop right through those mastodon hides. Now, half the time they just bounce off."
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On Fri, 26 Nov 2004 15:15:30 -0600, Prometheus

You just highlighted one of the critical differences between computers and most kinds of woodworking and metalworking machinery: Moving parts.
In general we find it far easier to wrangle electrons than to move larger pieces of material. As soon as you have to deal with moving parts you've got a much more complex set of issues.
As a first approximation, the expense to produce anything, and hence its cost, is directly related to weight and precision. The more it weighs and the more precise it has to be the more it costs. The ideal hobbist wookworking tool is extremely precise and generally heavy. Ergo, it's going to be expensive.
And of course you can make a very similar tool which is lighter and less precise and hence costs less. And a lot of people will buy it because they either don't know the difference or don't care.
In the case of factory automation you've got what amounts to a triangular solution space. One vertex is mechanical precision, one vertex is computer power and the third vertex is sensors. You can pretty much trade one against the others to get the same results. The 'hottest' part of the solution space is near the computing vertex with increasing creep toward sensors and MEMS technology develops. The third vertex, precision of parts, is the one we find hardest to deal with and hence the most expensive.
The problem becomes particular acute when you start talking about tools for the home shop because the tools you use there are are concentrated around the precision vertex. The operator pretty much takes the place of computer power and sensors.
And what makes it even worse is that because of inadequate 'programming' the computer will accept inherently low-precision, low-grade tools and expect to be able to do high-precision work with them. In other words, people will buy cheap junk and expect it to enable them to do good work.
Which is not to say you cannot do good work with cheap junk. You can. But that means shifting your position in the solution space back toward computing power and sensors. In other words, the operator has to provide more of the 'solution power'.
One final thought: If 'cheap' was all that mattered, people would be using nothing but hand tools. I can completely outfit a neander shop for less than the cost of even a medium-quality table saw. (Using the basic tools to make some more tools and so forth.) Obviously what these consumers -- a good word for them -- want is cheap and easy. That comes perilously close to John Cambell's definition of magic as 'product without process.'
--RC (bear with me folks. The caffine hasn't kicked in yet and I'm babbling.)
Sleep? Isn't that a totally inadequate substitute for caffine?
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snipped-for-privacy@TAKEOUTmindspring.com wrote:

What is MEMS technology? (Googling...)
http://www.memsnet.org/mems/what-is.html
<quote> Micro-Electro-Mechanical Systems (MEMS) is the integration of mechanical elements, sensors, actuators, and electronics on a common silicon substrate through microfabrication technology. While the electronics are fabricated using integrated circuit (IC) process sequences (e.g., CMOS, Bipolar, or BICMOS processes), the micromechanical components are fabricated using compatible "micromachining" processes that selectively etch away parts of the silicon wafer or add new structural layers to form the mechanical and electromechanical devices.
MEMS promises to revolutionize nearly every product category by bringing together silicon-based microelectronics with micromachining technology, making possible the realization of complete systems-on-a-chip. MEMS is an enabling technology allowing the development of smart products, augmenting the computational ability of microelectronics with the perception and control capabilities of microsensors and microactuators and expanding the space of possible designs and applications.
Microelectronic integrated circuits can be thought of as the "brains" of a system and MEMS augments this decision-making capability with "eyes" and "arms", to allow microsystems to sense and control the environment. Sensors gather information from the environment through measuring mechanical, thermal, biological, chemical, optical, and magnetic phenomena. The electronics then process the information derived from the sensors and through some decision making capability direct the actuators to respond by moving, positioning, regulating, pumping, and filtering, thereby controlling the environment for some desired outcome or purpose. Because MEMS devices are manufactured using batch fabrication techniques similar to those used for integrated circuits, unprecedented levels of functionality, reliability, and sophistication can be placed on a small silicon chip at a relatively low cost. </quote>
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On Sat, 27 Nov 2004 14:49:43 GMT, "Mark Jerde"

This gets really interesting when you think ahead a few decades. I can easily envision a 'smart saw' that is as lightly built and imprecise as any Harbor Freight crap but which can produce micrometer accuracy because of the sensors and microactuators built into the thing. It would sell for the equivalent price of an HF special.
In fact it's easy to see how you could get something that was not only cheap and accurate, but far more versatile than any single power tool in the shop today. Combining the functions of a table saw, band saw, cutoff saw is only the beginning but my imagination fails this morning.
Oh, and did I mention the thing will be dead easy to set up and not require nearly the number of jigs and fixtures we use today?
I say 'a few decades' for all this because making it work is going to require a pile of sensors and actuators in each tool. I mean like hundreds of them. It will take a while to get that level of integration and to bring the price down.
--RC Sleep? Isn't that a totally inadequate substitute for caffine?
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<<Snip>>

Accurate or no, what's going to happen when an arbor made of recycled pot metal lets go, and flings the blade at your head?

I suppose I can see how this could be appealing, but I can see how it would be very sad as well. All of a sudden, any old fool with enough money could make anything they wanted in their garage without going through the trouble of learning a darn thing about the materials or the tools, and actual craftsmanship would just be devalued more than it already is. I like woodworking for it's uncertainty- give me a well made tool that I need to learn to use over a POS with computer-actuated servo motors and cameras any day!

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On Sun, 28 Nov 2004 19:46:44 -0600, Prometheus

It won't. Among other things the design will make sure that parts are not over-stressed and be able to shut things down to prevent malfunctions. The essence of MEMs is control and what we're talking about here is a tool which is under complete, precise control at all times.

Of course that's exactly the argument that has been made against power tools since they came into wide use in the shop.
And you're not thinking nearly far enough ahead, btw. Cameras and servo motors indeed!
--RC

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Let's hope so- I'm sure I'm not going to be able to resist some of the new-fangled suckers when they get here. Be a shame to lose the adventure of some of the things we've got now, though.

It's still a good argument! I'm actually finding that as my craftmanship improves, I'm wandering away from the power tools a bit in favor of neandering- guess it's all just a matter of temperment.

Hmm... What were you thinking of? We've got the cameras and servo motors in manufacturing today, so my guess would be that that's what is going to filter down long before any cutting-edge technologies. Things have got to be working, quick to manfacture and fairly cheap before they're going to hit the consumer market. Of course, on a long enough timeline, you'll probably have the option to change pine into walnut with a tool that manipulates things at a molecular level- but I wouldn't expect to see it at the Home Depot in ten years!
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On Tue, 30 Nov 2004 20:07:46 -0600, Prometheus

Not just a matter of hope. While the thing will undoubtedly have failure modes, with the degree of sensing and control I'm talking about the machine will be carefully limited in its ability to do anything unsafe.

Of course it's a good argument. That's why there are neanders as well as normites.

Remember, I'm talking a few decades out. Now technically I suppose you could call some of the elements that will go on this thing 'servos' and 'cameras,' but we probably wouldn't reognize them as servos and cameras if they were shown to us today. These would be tiny devices, about microscopic for the most part, and there would be dozens or hundreds of them on the tool. Nor will all of the be servos or cameras. I expect the sensors will cover a lot more of the electromagnetic spectrum than just visible light. Nor will all the visible light sensors be designed to resolve an image. Each one of these elements by itself could do very little, but taken together, along with proper networking and distributed intelligence, they'd be able to produce remarkable results.
For that matter I doubt the blade on this tool will look much like the blades we are familar with. I don't expect it to use a laser, but it may well use something that works more like an upside down toothless sabre saw blade than anything else we're familar with. And between the basic design and the built-in fail safes, I expect it will be nearly impossible to cut yourself on it.
Similarly, the power source is unlikely to be a single big motor, but rather a number of smaller power sources, some of them driven directly by electricity and some of them not.

Absolutely. Those are inherent characteristics of MEMS-type devices in quantity production. To give you a little taste of what I mean take a look at TI's DLP (Digital Light Processing) technology which is being splashed all over television this Christmas. A DLP device is essentialy an array of movable mirrors, thousands of them, or hundreds of thousands, all individually steerable and produced en bloc with the associated electronics on a single piece of silicon. For something slightly (and I emphasize 'slightly') more advanced, do a Google search on 'smart structures' and look at how researchers are proposing to use MEMS technology to exercise very fast, very precise, control over structures ranging from aircraft to skyscrapers.

Try 20 or 30 years for what I'm thinking of. These things never happen as fast as the optimists predict or as slowly as the pessimists imagine. The seeds of this kind of tool are already in the lab, but we haven't identified most of them or figured out how we're going to apply them to things like tools.
--RC

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rcook writes:

The technology may be wonderful in 30 or 40 years, but it sounds too fragile in construction to me to survive in anything like today's hobby woodworking shop, never mind in tomorrow's commercial shop. Think of all the comparisons we get today between the Unifence and the Biesemeyer fence and the reasons for most of those comparisons--the comparative overall fragility of aluminum extrusions. Having screwed up a Unifence myself, I realize what a problem that can be.
Too, when you think servos, keep thinking cameras. Today's servo motors are tiny compared to those I worked on many years ago: the autofocus systems on camera lenses have exceptionally responsive servo motors that weigh very little and take up almost no space, so you're right about some of the tchnology being almost here.
But the biggest problem that is going to exist is developing a perceived need for such a tool. Excessive complexity and great fragility are not exactly wonderful recommendations for tools that sit out in a detached garage or other building, with extremes of temperature ranging widely depending on locale, a possiblity (probability?) of moisture invasion on a modest scale, the need to be moved from one corner to the other almost daily without losing its set-up, and, to make things more fun, the ability to survive being filled with mouse droppings or nesting.
Hell, I found a blacksnake curled up in an old box of tools a few weeks ago. That sumbitch had chewed its way in, and was evidently curling up for winter when I dumped the box on its side so I could get some old chisels out.
Charlie Self "Giving every man a vote has no more made men wise and free than Christianity has made them good." H. L. Mencken
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