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Mert Shindon helped with the hard parts

TECHNOLOGY, says a United States Army recruitment advertisement, ``is taking over the world.'' This will be good news if you had thought it was the tax-gatherer. Tax-gatherers do proliferate and their duties mount, but, the United States Army notwithstanding, technology is really on the skids. It is self-evident. For one thing, when technology does begin to amount to something and is about to take over the world, technology will blow a gasket and escaping steam will trumpet the knell. What would we turn to when all the machinery was rolling harmoniously, the market was eager, everybody was happily employed, and a fuse blew? Let that be a lesson to you. For another thing, the world isn't ready yet, anyway.

Years ago, and I surmise right here, I related the sad story of a neighbor whose fictitious name I have forgotten, and how he invented perpetual motion. He was considered crazy. The community had softer words, such as ``odd,'' ``tetched.'' He was, in short, a devotee of technology. It was his delight to appear now and then with some great improvement that would speed humankind along the primrose path to total perfection in the industrial arts, until the world would indeed be captive to the logical philo sophy that X2 plus 7X plus 53 equals 11/3. He just about proved that every day.

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One time he appeared with a wonderful device that would permit a person with normal eyesight to look right through the wall of a house and see what was going on outdoors. He called it a window. Then he made a pair of skis that turned up on the rear ends -- for backsliders. Not all of his inventions were practical like those, for he had a whimsical side and liked to bring his neighbors a smile. He made little knitted cozies for cold chisels and had applied for a patent on his wheelbarrow with air brakes . When he began working on his perpetual-motion machine, he explained that it would be a major development, and he would be obliged if people didn't intrude, so people stopped visiting his barn and great curiosity accrued about his progress.

When he would come from his barn to shop for groceries, or to have Mert Shindon, the blacksmith, make him some part he couldn't fashion himself, he assured folks he was coming along just fine and expected to be able to make a demonstration soon. People passing on the road would stop the horse to listen, and sometimes there would be whirring and grinding noises that attested to activity. Everybody said one thing -- that when the man did appear he seemed so consummately pleased with himself that success w as foregone. With his happy attitude, he couldn't miss. That first winter, since he had no heat in his barn, he didn't do much, but when warmer weather came he would work every daylight hour and sometimes into the night with a lantern.

In the entire history of technology, there was never more concentrated effort and enthusiastic zeal than he deployed on his project, and since success was conceded by all success came. He told people that he had made a perpetual-motion machine, that it was running 24 hours a day in his barn, and that except for an annual shutdown for adjustments and routine repairs, it would continue to run forever. He had thus, you see, peaked with the ultima Thule of technology, the ne plus ultra that not even an alch emist could hope to surpass, the answer to every earthly problem. He invited a few people at a time to come to the barn and view this accomplishment, and although nobody else in the community could understand much about the machine and its operation, all could see that it was working. And at all hours, people going by could hear it, so there was no trick.

But this world is tainted with skeptics and unbelievers. There were, I'm grieved to report, those who pooh-poohed and scoffed, and held, very stupidly, that because nobody had ever made a perpetual-motion machine a perpetual-motion machine could therefore never be made, and they pronounced the whole thing a swindle. This position was also taken by no less a prestigious person than a professor at Massachusetts Institute of Technology, who came to look and said the rig seemed like a fair water pump, but i t was not a perpetual-motion machine. This is no attitude to take, and shows that technology and the world are not yet ready to share ultimate fruition. I am dubious about the prognostication of the United States Army.

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