Wednesday, March 24, 2004

The big construction project

The weekend project here at the Brain household was the construction of a swing set for the kids. If you are a parent, then you have probably been through at least one large construction project like this and can completely sympathize.

When we bought the thing (which came in four huge boxes and weighed at least 500 pounds), the person who helped us load it into the truck said, "Oh, it's easy -- my neighbor put their's together in less than two hours!" He certainly made it sound simple.

We started the project by laying all the parts out in the backyard:

Saturday morning...

That alone took about an hour. After 15 hours of actual construction time, I stopped counting...

One of the more interesting things we did on this project was that we videotaped the whole thing. The video camera has one of these "time lapse" modes, so the 15+ hour construction process got compressed into just a half hour or so of tape. Click here to see a little snippet. (this snippet actually was not shot with the camera's time lapse mode, as will be explained in a moment...)

There are three things I noticed as I was building this swing set:
  1. It is time to create gadgets that talk to you. I've mentioned this once before. Here's why. To use the time lapse mode on the video camera, you have to go into a menu and play with some settings, and then turn the time lapse feature on. If you turn the camera off (because you are eating lunch, say) then, when you turn the camera back on, it forgets all about time lapse recording and goes back to its "normal mode". Wouldn't it be nice if, when you turn the camera back on, it said, "Hey, an hour ago you were doing time lapse mode -- would you like me to keep doing that or go back to my normal mode?" Then you could answer yes or no and the camera would set itself appropriately. Or it could ask the question in the viewfinder and then you could push a button to answer yes or no. A gadget like a video camera has 150 settings, and it would be nice if the camera helped out with them.

  2. There has been a transformation in the construction field brought on by the advent of the electric-screwdriver/battery-powered-drill. In assembling this wooden playset, there was not a single nail. Instead, you screw and ratchet the entire thing together. There must have been at least 250,000 screws in this kit. It would have driven you absolutely insane to do all those screws by hand. That is why people once used nails. You could hammer in nails quickly. Now, because of the electric screwdriver, it is actually quicker to screw everything together. The nice side-benefit of screws is that it is easier to take things apart when you make a mistake.

  3. Is it possible to have "future gadget envy?" You may have experienced "gadget envy" -- you see a friend using some new gadget and you decide that you have to get one yourself. Gadget Envy drives the sale of everything from big plasma screens to camera phones. "Future Gadget Envy" occurs when you know that there is going to be a new gadget available in the near future, but you want it to be here today. In my case, future gadget envy occurs because I have been writing so much about robots. I can imagine having a robot that accesses the Internet wirelessly, downloads the instructions and then builds the whole playset for me in 25 minutes. I get that same feeling now whenever I peel a potato, load the dishwasher or pick up the playroom. Only about 15 years to go...
It did finally get done:

Sunday evening

And the kids love it!

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