A really cool tool

For some reason, I have always liked this passage from Neal Stephenson’s Cryptonomicon:

Now, when Bobby Shaftoe had gone through high school, he’d been slotted into a vocational track and ended up taking a lot of shop classes.  A certain amount of time was therefore, naturally, devoted to sawing large pieces of wood or metal in to smaller pieces.  Numerous saws were available in the shop for that purpose, some better than others.  A sawing job that would be just ridiculously hard and lengthy using a hand saw could be accomplished with a power saw.  Likewise, certain cuts and materials would cause the smaller power saws to overheat or seize up altogether and therefore called for larger power saws.  But even with the biggest power saw in the shop, Bobby Shaftoe always got the sense that he was  imposing some kind of stress on the machine.  It would slow down when the blade contacted the material, it would vibrate, it would heat up, and if you pushed the material through too fast it would threaten to jam.  But then one summer he worked in a mill where they had a bandsaw.  The bandsaw, its supply or blades, its spare parts, maintenance supplies, special tools and manuals occupied a whole room.  It was the only tool he had ever seen with infrastructure.  It was the size of a car.  The two wheels that drove the blade were giant eight-spoked things with that looked to have been salvaged from steam locomotives.  its blades had to be manufactured from long rolls of blade-stuff by unreeling about half a  mile of toothed ribbon, cutting it off, and carefully welding the cut ends together into a loop.  When you hit the power switch, nothing would happen for a little while except that a subsonic vibration would slowly rise up out of the earth, as if a freight train were approaching from far away, and finally the blade would begin to move, building speed slowly but inexorably until the teeth disappeared and it became a bolt of pure hellish energy stretched taut between the table and the machinery above it.  Anecdotes about accidents involving the bandsaw were told in hushed voices and not usually commingled with other industrial-accident anecdotes.  Anyway, the most noteworthy thing about the bandsaw was that you could cut anything with it and not only did it do the job quickly and coolly but id didn’t seem to notice that it was doing anything.  It wasn’t even aware that a human being was sliding a great big chunk of stuff through it. It never slowed down.  Never heated up.

This is what constitutes a really cool tool….Stephenson followed this up in his comparison of various kinds of computer systems in In the beginning…was the command line, a similar snippet of philosophy of the tools we use and the tools we are in awe of.