A Few Things Ill Considered

The Bottleneck Years

Chapter 4 Table of Contents Chapter 6

by H.E. Taylor

Chapter 5

FabNet, May 18, 2055

I sat at the window watching Matt roll away in his electric chariot. When he was gone, I stared at the lake musing how different we were. We were identical and yet we weren’t. Matt definitely had a unique way of looking at things.

It started when he was a teenager. He picked up a second hand 3-D printer for next to nothing at a yard sale. 3-D printers, or fabs, short for fabricators, were capable of building any desired object layer by layer out of plastic or ceramic goop. “They’re not nanotech. They’re not microtech; they’re just fabulous fabs,” as the jingle went.

The invention of plasteel, which laid hundreds of layers per millimeter to create a mother-of-pearl like transparent material harder than steel, made fabricators much more useful. It was a thing of beauty — transparent plastic harder than steel and light as foam. With plasteel, replacement parts could be fabricated which were stronger than the originals.

So Matt had two different machines and he wanted to use a single control program for both of them. To do that, he added a laser and sensor feedback control system. He then wrote a program to control the two different machines, but to his surprise he found he was able to do some other interesting things as well. He could use the laser measurement subsystem alone to generate a highly accurate 3-D pattern of an object. Along the way, he had to devise a flexible file format to store the several kinds of scan data. And the feedback system enabled him to completely automate the fabrication process. He could put a broken cup in the fabricator and, with a previous scan, build up the missing section.

Fabnet was the internet zone dedicated to the care and feeding of fabricators. It had been started by enthusiasts, hackers and material scientists, but had mutated as fabs became more practical and easier to use. People shared scans, programs, fabricator designs, and they talked. Social sites abounded. Matt talked about what he was doing and generated a lot of interest.

As a would-be-businessman, he saw an opportunity and he grabbed it with both hands. The big companies were selling ‘comprehensive solutions’ — proprietary systems that cost thousands and up. For 150 credits, Matt sold a kit that added the feedback control subsytem to most models of fabricators.

At the same time, he branched out and sold parts and materials. He devised a 3-D pattern description language that became the defacto standard in Fabnet. Then he designed his own fabricator. Once you had a small fabricator, you could use it to build fancier models, but he also sold a graduated series of kits with progressively greater capabilities. And he wasn’t chary with information. He made the plans available, but if you were lazy, incompetent or in a hurry, you could buy his kits. A lot of people bought his kits. Tens of thousands of them in fact.

Part of that success was a reflection of hard times. Things broke down and couldn’t be replaced except by a fab. In the philosophical wing of the green movement, the practitioners of designed endurance, as opposed to designed obolescence, took the fab and plasteel and ran with it. Fabs were not yet common household utensils, but most workshops had one.

Matt had more orders than he could handle. He hired a couple of people to work in the garage and, when the city gave him a rough time because of zoning bylaws, he rented a spot in an abandoned strip mall. That was when he moved out of the house.

By the time he graduated from highschool, Matt was a multimillionaire, not that that meant much in an era of billionaires, but it was indicative. His relations with teachers and fellow students were interesting, to say the least. Just to rub it in, he ran the business while making a respectable low A grade standing, not that he ever cared about academics.

And what do you do after you’re a raging success? That’s what Matt was busy discovering now.


Excerpted from _The Bottleneck Years_ by H.E. Taylor

For further information see:
A Gentle Introduction.

Last modified September 11, 2012