Thursday, August 09, 2012

Book Review: The Toaster Project

At some point you've probably wondered how well you'd get along if everything were taken away. Maybe a Robinson Crusoe type situation or a Connecticut Yankee in King Arthur's Court. But how much do you really know? Thomas Thwaites looked at this line from Douglas Adams' Mostly Harmless.
"Left to his own devices he couldn’t build a toaster. He could just about make a sandwich and that was it." 
When he thought about it he saw how little he could do. If society collapses would he be able to help rebuild? 

There's a certain mental image of a generic grandpa sitting at the table or at a work bench fixing something. That something is usually a toaster. Sometimes a radio, but usually a toaster. It's simple. You open it up and you can probably figure out what's wrong. A spring that's loose, a coil that's broken, a piece of metal that's bent. How it works is obvious and can be fixed by a guy with some tools. But could you build one? 

I finished reading "The Toaster Project" yesterday. I'm pretty sure I've mentioned it before. It's about a guy, the afore mentioned Thomas Thwaites, who decided to try to build a toaster from scratch. As he and Carl Sagan pointed out "If you wish to make an apple pie from scratch you must first invent the universe." He doesn't go that far back. More of a "if I were living in the 16th century" sort of idea. Although, he does fudge that a wee bit. To be fair, plastics are crazy hard to reproduce without an advanced degree in chemistry.

The book isn't very long. I cleared about half of it while riding the subway to it's southern end (with two transfers). The rest I polished off while waiting for the office printer to spit out a book and a rather nasty fast food lunch. It's interesting and amusing, well written and easy to read.

The video below has the author talking about the project. It's a quick summary of the book with the benefit that he has video.

Additional details and footage are available at his site. I've got quite a few family members that I'd consider getting a copy of this book for.

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