Meccano. The stuff small boys’ dreams once were made of.
This is one of the OGWBT’s dreams from when he was still the Young Guy Who Built Things. The picture was on the cover of ordinary Meccano sets, and was of course a cruel, exploitative lie. The most indulgent of uncles could never buy enough Meccano to build that crane. And yet Meccano had an irresistible attraction, right down to the sheer fiddliness of it. The blackened, mangled finger-ends from hours of tightening tiny nuts and bolts had a certain nobility of labour to them, and (especially if you had a Mamod steam engine to power your Meccano) a manly odour of Shed.
Meanwhile, for relaxation or in the rare crisis of needing to Get Along With Girls, there was a harmless, plastic, and (most damning of all) non-British building system called Lego. It ran to doors and windows, even the occasional clumsy wheel, but that was about it. It was a Children’s Toy, whereas Meccano was Engineering. Real world problems were solved Meccano-fashion. Trains crossing into Russia had their carriages lifted physically from standard gauge to broad gauge bogies. Earlier, navigation engineers in the British Midlands connected canals crossing at at different heights by raising and lowering barges, along with the water they floated in, in a giant steel bathtub. Meccano, just bigger.
Then the YGWBT grew up. Meccano went bust. British engineering went bust. The UK practically went bust. And by the time the next YGWBT generation came along, those sneaky Danes had pinched the best ideas of Meccano, added more of their own, replaced the grubby metal girders with Nordically hygienic plastic, and Technic was unleashed. And damn their Viking hides, it was actually better. By the time Mindstorms added computer control, game over red (presumably Mars, 1/10O scale*) rover…
…which all came flooding back when I attended a recent briefing about the future of videoconferencing. Not because I fell into a stupefied reverie (as may happen on such occasions), but because that’s what happening in our little corner of technology right now. VC has long been, effectively, an executive shed, a world of tiny nuts and bolts, where Dremels hold sway and everything smells of iron filings. And VC interoperability has lifted entire VC trains, using computer Meccano, from one gauge to another.
But no more, apparently. Soon VC, and VC interoperability in particular, will be a matter of Lego, not Meccano. For interoperable, in fact, read: interchangeable. Room systems will be built by users out of cameras, microphones, speakers and screens of their own choosing. Controlling intelligence will be local or in the cloud. VC services themselves will be largely cloud-based and users will flip from one to another like online dating apps. Cheaper, easier and quicker – and just as with Lego, liberating the imagination instead of ensnaring it in nuts and bolts. And by “soon”, the YGWBT’s at Insync tell me, we mean, effectively, now.
If you’re fed up of maiming your finger-ends on the Meccano of videoconferencing, have a chat to us about Lego.
*NASA did actually use Lego Technic in prototyping the Rover.