Triumphs of Capitalism

By the standards of history, you, I, and (unless you’re a very atypical blog reader) pretty much everyone we’ve ever met is fabulously wealthy. How wealthy? One good measure is our ability and willingness to support the frivolity of others. Here are two recent technological innovations that give eloquent testimony to just how well off we are.

First, the Oreo separating machine. (Yes, I realize that every other blogger on earth has already linked to this one, but if you haven’t actually watched it yet, you really should click through):

And then….

The amazing “Useless Machine”. It has one button, with two positions, “On” and “Off”. When you switch it on, a lever arm emerges, pushes the button back to “Off”, and retreats. Repeat as desired:

Personally, I’d like it better if the lever arm moved more slowly and deliberately. But maybe that’s why I’m not a designer.

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22 Responses to “Triumphs of Capitalism”


  1. 1 1 Mike H

    Speaking of machines that switch themselves off…

    I once helped organise a robot competition. The robots (remote controlled) had to drive to the centre of a maze, retrieve a trophy, and get it back to their home base.

    One of the favourites to win was well on its way back, when the trophy suddenly slipped, bumped the robot’s on/off switch, and…..

    Moral of the story : when designing a robot to enter a trophy retrieval competition, make sure to orient your switch so that ‘off’ is up, not down.

    I wish I had a video of the event. In my mind, I privately awarded them the “most interesting way to lose” award.

  2. 2 2 Harold

    If we swapped the labels on the switch, it would operate the same, but suddenly you have a machine that you cannot turn off. That sounds dangerous!

  3. 3 3 Ken B

    @Steve: Google Shannon’s ultimate machine. http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=cZ34RDn34Ws

  4. 4 4 Ken B

    Shannon’s original machine, with the panache Steve laments above, can be seen here. http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=z7bVw7lMtUg&feature=player_detailpage#t=303s

  5. 5 5 Neil

    Harold@2 The truly ultimate machine is one that, while in the off state, will switch itself on without anyone having to do anything. The problem of existence solved.

  6. 6 6 Advo

    Useless machine advanced edition

    http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Djc8FPHs45o

  7. 7 7 Ken

    People’s lack of perspective is astonishing at times. That ALL Americans are filthy rich is completely obvious if you examine things objectively. But people don’t.

  8. 8 8 Ken Arromdee

    This message uses the word “we” inappropriately. It may be true that we are wealthy by absolute standards, but it’s certainly not true that “our” willingness to support the frivolity of others extends to things like this and that this shows how well of “we” are.

  9. 9 9 Andy

    Have you never seen the Goonies? Seems our wealth has not incresased much since the 80′s…

  10. 10 10 Harold

    @7. I am not sure “rich” has an objective standard. OED defines it having a “great deal of money or wealth”, a rather elastic definition. If we compare americans to the world population, then pretty much all are rich, and this is a valid comparison. However, there is no particular reason why this is the right or only comparison. Undeniably, some are richer than others in the USA. As an American, I may well feel that comparing myself to other Americans would be a more meaningful comparison, and this is equally valid.

  11. 11 11 James Kahn

    This seems like a pretty good indicator as well, though like all these examples, only really shows how wealthy SOME are.

    https://mobile.twitter.com/jpodhoretz/status/313676008735797248/photo/1

  12. 12 12 Ken

    Harold,

    As an American, I may well feel that comparing myself to other Americans would be a more meaningful comparison, and this is equally valid.

    So you compare yourself to Americans in 1900, 1800, and 1700? Or do you restrict yourself to the exceedingly small human population of current Americans?

    A good way to determine if you’re rich is to ask yourself if you’d change places with another randomly selected human. Restricting yourself to only Americans to determine if you ‘re rich is as reasonable as an NBA player determining if he is tall by only looking at other NBA players. In other words, not very reasonable.

  13. 13 13 Ken Arromdee

    A good way to determine if you’re rich is to ask yourself if you’d change places with another randomly selected human.

    Why does the correct way use “another randomly selected human” and not “another randomly selected mammal” or “another randomly selected multicellular organism”? Isn’t restricting yourself to humans as arbitrary as restricting yourself to Americans or basketball players?

  14. 14 14 Ken

    Ken,

    First, I said a “good” way, not the “correct” way.

    Isn’t restricting yourself to humans as arbitrary as restricting yourself to Americans or basketball players?

    No.

  15. 15 15 Mike H

    I’d happily change places with another randomly selected me.

  16. 16 16 Kirk

    I bet the math would be fascinating to determine what the odds were of a swap with a random human improving your life, as well as what kind of odds would be required to get someone to take the chance of being worse off. I mean, if 60% of the “people” are better off, and 40% worse off than me, with maybe 10% really, really, worse off, would I take the chance to swap with a randomly selected human?

    How far down the food chain would I need to be to take the risk of losing out?

    I’m guessing no more than the bottom 25%, or even less would take the chance.

  17. 17 17 Eliezer

    I don’t get it, Oreos are not expensive.

  18. 18 18 Al V.

    @Ken, excellent points. For example, I do not feel at all wealthy. On a day-to-day basis, I struggle to get by (having two kids in college will do that to you). And yet, my gross household income is in the top 10% in the U.S., which means that it is approximately in the top 2% in the world today. And given that an estimated 6% of people who have ever lived are alive today, that puts me in the top 0.1% of people that have ever lived. And yet I certainly don’t feel rich.

    Somewhere else I once commented that a poor person is someone who doesn’t know where his or her next meal is coming from. A rich person is someone who doesn’t have to think about how he is going to pay for his children’s college. Everyone else is middle income.

    Last night my wife and I watched the first two episodes of “Game of Thrones” Season 2 on Amazon streaming. The marginal cost was $3 per episode. The fact that I had the ability to do that is truly amazing. That I can watch almost any movie or TV show, at any time, in my living room in High Definition is a truly amazing technological advance. How do I quantify the value of that ability?

  19. 19 19 Al V.

    Would I swap places with another randomly selected person? Having been to India, no.

  20. 20 20 Mike H

    I watched the video of the separator machine, and was left wondering if this is not so much an example of frivolity, but an example of clever viral marketing of the Oreo brand. It’s certainly not an amateur video.

  21. 21 21 Ken Arromdee

    Isn’t restricting yourself to humans as arbitrary as restricting yourself to Americans or basketball players?

    No.

    Got any reasons behind this?

  22. 22 22 Les Cargill

    Harold: Off still isn’t on. Try that with a light switch.

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