Patrick is a mid-40 year old geek with an undergraduate degree in mathematics and a master's degree in Information Systems. Nothing he says here has anything to do with the official position of his employer or any other institution.

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90 Responses

  1. Rtod says:

    Yes, I would.Report

  2. BlaiseP says:

    Obviously any sane person would buy one of these things. Most of the robots I’ve built have a two-button setup, one button on each side. They don’t actually do anything, the operator has to push both at the same time, which means his hands are out of the way of the robot in action.

    The RAND/FRAND patent model might be applicable here.Report

  3. Patrick Cahalan says:

    I’m a little amused by all these companies who – if they had any half-assed assessment of what constitutes a goddamn good idea – would have at least bought this dude’s patents back in 2002 for chump change… are now astonished that anyone might possibly mandate the use of a device like this.

    On the other hand, it’s impossible to look at this sort of situation (wherein the government will hand someone an IP monopoly) and think that this is something that ought to be avoided.Report

    • dhex in reply to Patrick Cahalan says:

      well, outside of other considerations, it was probably more of a leap ten years ago that you’d have state law saying “SAW SHARP! SHARP BAD! BAD SAW!” that would require them to change their business plan to this degree. al qaeda was distracting.Report

    • Jason Kuznicki in reply to Patrick Cahalan says:

      I recall they were concerned about a scenario in which the company bought the patent, people used its products, the people were more careless because they had the device (yes, this definitely happens), the device failed, and even more fingers got chopped off. In this scenario the company is liable, and it’s out a huge amount of money. To say nothing of the consumers, who are out a huge amount of fingers.

      I would think people on the left would prefer the status quo instead, because it involves fewer people getting maimed. But also I’d say it requires some empirical testing to establish one or two of its premises.

      Just the sort of thing that market competition might have established, if it were to have happened.Report

    • Jason Kuznicki in reply to Patrick Cahalan says:

      Also, mandating this kind of device seems really stupid to me, because the transition is going to be awful.

      “Hey Jim, you hear about these new power saws? They stop automatically when they hit a finger!”

      “Seriously?” [Brandishes an old power saw.] “Lemme try that…”Report

  4. dexter says:

    Well, I guess I am not sane. I quit watching the video when it got to the part about mangling the machine. I make most of my money as a carpenter and have owned several table saws. The first thing I do when I buy a new one is take all that plastic safety stuff off. They slow things up, and what is worse, makes it harder to get a clean cut.
    My suggestion is to pay attention. Never saw drunk and if you have to drink on the job make sure you have a designated sawer.Report

    • Patrick Cahalan in reply to dexter says:

      I think the frequency of use is a factor, but going either way, depending upon the individual.

      I have a hand saw that I treat very respectfully because I use it very seldom. If I used it every day, *I’m* the sort of cat who would have to fight not to get blasé about it (this is something I’ve worked on, in my adult life). As a result, I’d regard this as necessary if I used it every day just to help protect me from potential lapses.

      I am not, however, Universal Man.Report

    • James Hanley in reply to dexter says:

      I’m not a carpenter, but I use my table saw several times per year, and like Dexter I took the plastic safety blade off because of the difficulty of getting a clean cut. I’m very careful in how I cut, because I have more than a little respect for the power of the saw. That’s true even though I’m the type of person who would probably react to the loss of a finger by walking inside and getting a cup of ice to put it in before I drove to the hospital; injuries generally don’t freak me out (except that time I accidentally poured boiling water on my groin…).

      But this saw looks like it has no obtrusive safety equipment that hinders a good cut, so I would consider buying such a saw whenever I replace mine. It all depends on the price point. Quite possibly it just means people who currently can only marginally afford a saw suddenly can’t afford one (shades of the inequality symposium–government regs could price poor people out of needed equipment!).

      That said, it’s a marvelous invention, and one that likely can be improved and made more cost effective over time if it can just catch on initially in the high-end market.Report

      • dexter in reply to James Hanley says:

        James, out of the potentially dangerous tools I use the chainsaw ranks the highest in gotta pay attention. The one safety feature that I, and all of my digits and limbs, love above all others is the chain brake. Now that was a brilliant idea. And it doesn’t mangle the tool when it is used.Report

        • Patrick Cahalan in reply to dexter says:

          I’m not so sure that this needs too, either.

          Well, it would certainly kill the blade, but I don’t think there is any way around that. If you can design a mechanical stop that can trigger that quickly, though, you can certainly design a mechanical clutch that will disengage the drive from the blade, so that the drive isn’t damaged when the blade is stopped.

          I wonder why this hasn’t been done.Report

          • Brandon Berg in reply to Patrick Cahalan says:

            The voice-over guy said that it breaks the SawStop module and the blade, doing about $60 worth of damage (1:35-1:55), so presumably it does disengage the blade.

            Also, Gass, not Glass.Report

        • James Hanley in reply to dexter says:

          I like the table saw because it’s stationary, and I can’t carelessly wave it around. The chainsaw, yeah, I’ve bumped a boot or leg a couple time, but fortunately without injury. So I’m with you on liking the chainbreak.

          But here we’re talking about a blade that’s revolving a lot faster, so it’s a lot harder to stop. So I see this technology as a first step, not the final development of the table saw break. But nothing will spur innovation on it like getting it into the market.

          What Patrick says about disengaging the drive–one of my first thoughts, too.Report

          • Patrick Cahalan in reply to James Hanley says:

            I can see that it might be tricky, because the drive has to be able to sustain a lot of torque, but c’mon, if it’s feasible to stop the blade that fast at that price point, it has to be feasible to disengage the drive for not much more.

            I’d be much more inclined to pay $600 for a table saw that would be reusable even if the safety device engaged than I would be inclined to spend $500 for one that had a safety device that damaged the saw or $400 for one that just lopped my damn hand off.Report

            • Mike Schilling in reply to Patrick Cahalan says:

              if it’s feasible to stop the blade that fast at that price point, it has to be feasible to disengage the drive for not much more.

              Once disengaged, how much more of you does it cut off before it runs out of momentum?Report

    • Artor in reply to dexter says:

      Yup. I’m a carpenter too, and the only saw injuries I’ve seen are from someone doing something stupid. I remove safety guards all the time so I can see my cut-line, but I pay attention to where my fingers are, and I don’t use the saw if I’m f’ed up.
      I notice the system makes the blade drop into the table. I’d rather it just do that, instead of destroying an expensive blade. A good blade alone can run around $100 dollars. The extra expense on the machine starts to get prohibitive. Still, if these become cost-effective, and don’t destroy my blades, I’d be happy to see them become standard, if only for the peace of mind.Report

  5. MikeSchilling says:

    Back in 2004, NPR reported a story of an inventor, by the name of Steven Glass, who had spent the previous four years trying to get various circular saw manufacturers to put safety devices on their saws. At first the manufacturers dismissed his data on the frequency and severity of injuries caused by such devices as “A lot of hand-waving”, but on meeting Mr. Glass realized that the metaphor was inapt.Report

  6. DensityDuck says:

    Well, call me butterfingers.


    I’d be extremely amused to see some anti-copyright advocates take this on.Report

  7. Turgid Jacobian says:

    nor shall private property be taken for public use, without just compensation

    Take the patents, put them in the public domain, and justly compensate him. Some kind of tricky auction to establish the compensation?Report

  8. Jaybird says:

    I don’t know that I mind the idea that the theory is one of opt-out. Sell the machine with this device but make it removable… if we have people like Dexter and James who remove such things, then the automatic assumption needs to be that they knew what they were doing.

    But I don’t have a problem with the default being that these devices are attached.Report

    • James Hanley in reply to Jaybird says:

      if we have people like Dexter and James who remove such things, then the automatic assumption needs to be that they knew what they were doing.

      Oh, you sooooo don’t know me! Right now I’m just killing time LoOGing until it’s dark enough for my annual tradition (a night early this year) of drinking beer and setting off fireworks. I’ve already started on the beer!Report

    • dexter in reply to Jaybird says:

      I only remove items that cause problems with use. I really love the chain brake but would remove it if it was in the way and caused aggravation. What I don’t want to do is pay extra money for something in the way. Give me the option and I will decide if I want to pay extra for a safety feature. Airbags are very expensive but I think they are worth it.
      Also, there is no way I would ride a motorcycle without a helmet.Report

  9. Rod says:

    I don’t understand the claim that it would “hundreds” of dollars per unit to add this technology. In the video it was mentioned that the cost to replace the unit after hitting the hot-dog was $60. I mean, it would cost more, sure. But hundreds? I seriously doubt that.

    More likely they’re afraid that at some point, some idiot will get drunk and test it. And that will be the 1 in a million units that fails and they will have to pay a big lawsuit. Otherwise, I really don’t get it. I would certainly be willing to pay an extra $60 or so for a saw with this tech.Report

    • Patrick Cahalan in reply to Rod says:

      No, I think that’s saw manufacturers scaremongering over how much Glass will charge them for the IP.Report

    • Artor in reply to Rod says:

      I think the $60 is for a replacement aluminum stop-block. The electronics would make up the rest of the expense, but if these go into mass production, I can see that price dropping quickly. Unfortunately, the price of a good blade isn’t going to go down anytime soon, and that’s the big concern for me.Report

      • Rod in reply to Artor says:

        As opposed to losing your hand??? Or even a finger?Report

        • Patrick Cahalan in reply to Rod says:

          This begs the question.

          Me, I wouldn’t be worried about how competent *I* was with the saw. I’m pretty careful with tools.

          I’m worried about other exception scenarios. The kids getting their hands on it. Some nutbar walking into my shop and bumping into me because he’s an idiot. A minor tremblor (I *DO* live in a earthquake prone area) kicking in just as I was cutting through a pile of replacement ceiling joists for the garage… something like that.

          Safety devices aren’t there to save you from everything. They’re there to save you when your own vigilance slips, for whatever reason. You’re still the most important safety device in every sort of mechanical device you own.

          Hell, if everybody drove that way, I wouldn’t curse so much on the highway.Report

          • dexter in reply to Patrick Cahalan says:

            Patrick, Two questions: Do you cut joists with a table saw? And do you know that saws not only are much safer, but make a better cut if the blade barely makes it through the board? It makes it much harder to cut off a hand if the blade is only an eight inch higher than the board.Report

      • BlaiseP in reply to Artor says:

        With such a system in place, costs could be lowered by getting rid of those cumbersome plastic flub-dubs. They aren’t doing the job and they only get in the way of progress, as Dexter pointed out. From the look of that stop block in slow motion, it appears the system has also shut down power to the motor.Report

  10. b-psycho says:

    So first he wanted the idea to be picked up. Then he got monopoly privilege on the idea making its spread artificially expensive (thus less likely). Now the state is planning “adopt this idea or else”.

    Gee, what a shock…

    To answer the question: if I were considering a table saw purchase, this would be a slight factor, but not much of one since I’d try to push any piece of wood I was cutting with something other than my hand as much as possible — honestly, probably even more than reasonable to do. Besides, getting too trusting around such devices is never smart because what if the safety component fails?

    My own tendencies aside, I’m also imagining the possibilities of morons trying to test the limits of this technology and others getting it only to gripe because it messed up their blade and/or the saw itself in the process of stopping their finger from being cut off.Report

    • Patrick Cahalan in reply to b-psycho says:

      Or, more generously, he wanted the idea to get picked up, and nobody would listen to him, so he started manufacturing his own saws, and made enough money off of the idea that he started rubbing shoulders with the hoi polloi, and one day a legislator whose second cousin lost a finger in a saw accident sees the video of the saw on some Discovery show and says, “There outta be a law”, and six months later Glass hears about it and lobbies for it because he’s been working on the idea for 12 years now and he actually thinks it is a good idea.

      Maybe “A big GFY to Makita” is in the back of his head, but that’s not entirely unjustifiable. They turned down what certainly seems like a good innovations.

      It seems to me that if any of the big tool manufacturers had the brains to pick up this idea in 2002 – they’d now have a near monopoly on the saw market themselves, as they’d have had a decade with professional engineers to make a design that works just as well but doesn’t damage the saw. Innovation doesn’t always get picked up in bottom-up markets, just like it doesn’t always get picked up by top-down monolithic organizations, either.

      Regardless of possible nefariousness, here, it seems to me that if the government is going to mandate something like this, there should be a mechanism by which the government purchases the intellectual property (if we’re going to have such a thing) and then puts it into the public domain.

      What the rights holder ought to make from it is open to discussion.Report

      • Jason Kuznicki in reply to Patrick Cahalan says:

        This seems eminently reasonable to me.

        So does shortening the life of patents, which would not solve the problem but would certainly mitigate it.Report

      • Brandon Berg in reply to Patrick Cahalan says:

        What the rights holder ought to make from it is open to discussion.

        That there’s the problem. With patents, the profit made by the patent holder is a function of the demand for the product. If the government is buying the patent, then it becomes a function of politics. Monopoly protection comes with its own set of problems, but I’d much rather see technological innovations available but a bit overpriced than see them not available at all due to government lowballing its buyout prices. We need to be very careful about moving important decisions out of the economic realm and into the political realm.Report

        • Patrick Cahalan in reply to Brandon Berg says:

          No, the government doesn’t own the patent. The government pays the rights holder to put the patent in the public domain, after which time nobody owns it, it’s part of the commons. The government does this as a function of deciding to mandate the product; they can’t mandate something that is held in patent, as it de facto creates a monopoly.

          Actually, the more I think about it, the more I’m enamored of that idea.

          Dear God, I would *never* suggest the government license out IP. They do a bad enough job licensing out mineral rights.Report

    • Brandon Berg in reply to b-psycho says:

      My own tendencies aside, I’m also imagining the possibilities of morons trying to test the limits of this technology

      At sixty dollars a pop, I don’t think people are going to be playing around with it much.Report

  11. Liberty60 says:

    This story seems to exemplify both sides of the perennial debates we have around here.

    That is, it is a form of the nanny-statism that libertarians don’t like, and the clever rent-seeking and cronyism that liberals don’t like.

    The inventor makes an invention, and since the “free market” turns a deaf ear to his sales pitch, he lobbies for the government to force people to buy it.

    Would I be overly cynical to bet that in a couple years when he grows rich off this scheme, he lobbies furiously to this same government to regulaton of his business, in defense of “free market”?Report

    • b-psycho in reply to Liberty60 says:

      Would I be overly cynical to bet that in a couple years when he grows rich off this scheme, he lobbies furiously to this same government to regulaton of his business, in defense of “free market”?

      Absolutely not. To expect otherwise would be overly idealistic.Report

    • Jason Kuznicki in reply to Liberty60 says:

      That is, it is a form of the nanny-statism that libertarians don’t like, and the clever rent-seeking and cronyism that liberals don’t like.



      • Jason Kuznicki in reply to Jason Kuznicki says:

        Really, the laughter was terribly uncharitable of me, but rent-seeking and crony capitalism are abuses that were neither discovered nor actively rooted out at any point by the left.

        On the contrary, it was the defenders of the free-market idea who invented, explained, popularized, and condemned these concepts for decades. (Centuries, if we believe Buchanan, who insists that his work is but a footnote to Madison.) All the while left-liberals were insisting that the government served the common good and that people who question its benevolence were kooks.

        If decrying rent-seeking and cronyism is now a part of the left-liberal identity, that’s great. A bit of credit, just a shred of it even, might be nice. Start with Tullock and Buchanan, if you don’t mind.Report

        • BlaiseP in reply to Jason Kuznicki says:

          Good grief. The entire thesis of Jacksonian democracy and the classical liberal tradition points to the destructive power of crony capitalism and rent seeking.Report

        • Liberty60 in reply to Jason Kuznicki says:

          I am happy to acknowledge that True Free Marketeers despise these things; and that the Clintonesque liberal establishment has embraced them.

          I think the point to be made is that the most determined enemies of the Free Market are the very practitioners of it.

          The abstract Free Market that gets summoned up by the think tankers and pundits has never existed, and doesn’t exist anywhere, for a very good reason. That is, no one who has any influence over policy wants it to exist.

          And to James below, I do think that libertarians despise rent-seeking and cronyism; but the strings of our political policy are not pulled by bloggers and writers at Cato; they are pulled by the corporations who rather enjoy rent-seeking and cronyism.

          So back to the original story- we have a government that is too small and weak to place the public interest ahead of private interest, but yet large and powerful enough to mandate that every table saw have this device. And it is made large and powerful, not by bleeding heart liberals, but by the corporations themselves.

          This battle might be decided in favor of the inventor; or in favor of the corporations; but in no regard will the interest or desires of the people be represented.Report

          • James Hanley in reply to Liberty60 says:

            I think the point to be made is that the most determined enemies of the Free Market are the very practitioners of it.

            I think I get your point, and am in agreement to the extent I do. But I would quibble that corporations are not necessarily well-defined as “practitioners” of the free market. I once asked a guy who runs a free-market research institute that has lots of corporate big wigs on its board if he knew any truly pro-free market businessmen. His instant reply was, “No!” Then, after a pause, he said, “Well, one,” and named a single member of his board.

            Corporations/businessmen will make use of the free market when it’s advantageous to them, or when they have no choice, but they’re not “practitioners” in the sense of preferring to work in that arena.

            I do think that libertarians despise rent-seeking and cronyism; but the strings of our political policy are not pulled by bloggers and writers at Cato; they are pulled by the corporations who rather enjoy rent-seeking and cronyism.

            You could substitute liberal for libertarian, and Mother Jones for Cato, and the statement remains as wholly correct as in the original form.Report

          • b-psycho in reply to Liberty60 says:

            So back to the original story- we have a government that is too small and weak to place the public interest ahead of private interest, but yet large and powerful enough to mandate that every table saw have this device. And it is made large and powerful, not by bleeding heart liberals, but by the corporations themselves.

            …if it’s powerful enough to do such a mandate, how can the problem be it’s too *weak*? It’s that it is deeply, blatantly (I’d say inherently) corrupt and could give half a crap about public interest.Report

            • Liberty60 in reply to b-psycho says:

              Our government is like some misshapen freak. It has some limbs, like the security apparatus, that are massively oversized and muscular; it has others, like banking regulation and social services that are shrunken and emasculated.

              This is the signature of corrupt governments; that they ignore the public interest, and focus like a laser on precisely the goals and interests of the few. And very often a massive powerful state is in the interest of the few who control it.Report

      • James Hanley in reply to Jason Kuznicki says:

        Setting aside Jason’s criticism about the left’s relationship to the ideas of rent-seeking and cronyism, Liberty’s statement implies that libertarians don’t object to those things. That may be inadvertent, but nevertheless it is wholly false.Report

        • Mike Schilling in reply to James Hanley says:

          It’s why they refuse to be funded by people with obvious corporatist agendas like the Koch’s.Report

          • James Hanley in reply to Mike Schilling says:


            I always hear that, but I never hear actual examples of Koch proposals that are clearly corporatist.

            I’m not saying they aren’t. I don’t pay much attention to them, so I really don’t know, and I wouldn’t be shocked if they do. I’m only saying that the accusers I’ve dealt with in the past haven’t given any compelling examples. I look forward to seeing one.’Report

            • b-psycho in reply to James Hanley says:

              This has some examples.

              The site itself obviously has an agenda, but each mention of the various subsidies Koch Industries gets originated from a regular news source. Kind of difficult to talk of free-market principles with a straight face when your company solicits welfare.

              This isn’t to agree with the “libertarians don’t care about corporatism” charge. Rather, I’d say a serious libertarian movement would evict the Koch brothers from itself so as to not give the impression.Report

            • Liberty60 in reply to James Hanley says:

              Its always dangerous to an argument to fixate on one specific evildoer; to single out the Kochs as the epitome of corporate welfare only invites the rebuttal and then we spend all our time talking about two individuals in a nation of 300 million.

              But I think its useful to point out that corporate welfare takes many forms. Not just the obvious outright subsidies and special tax breaks, but the more veiled and hidden examples of the government picking winners and losers.

              For example; its been documented (by libertarians) that local zoning and parking ordinances have the warping effect of making automobile travel more convenient than mass transit. Add to this the massive amounts of tax dollars spent on automobile related infrastructure, giving the users of autos a free ride, while train riders still have to pay full fare. Yet the CEO of Ford would be insulted if you accused him of being a welfare recipient. And of course the prison industrial complex, the military industrial complex and so on.

              Overall, its pretty hard to find a single business that is not in some way entangled in a web of subsidies and market distortions, either direct or indirect.

              I’m not even sure its useful to scream about hypocrisy; its just that the concept of a Free Market, free of any warping or distortions is a mirage.

              Even if government did nothing more than defend the shores and enforce contracts, it would still be providing a free benefit to businesses, by deciding which contracts were enforceable and which were not, and who has to pay the tax and who does not.Report

              • James Hanley in reply to Liberty60 says:

                its just that the concept of a Free Market, free of any warping or distortions is a mirage.

                To tie this into a thread on another post, so is the American ideal. Doesn’t mean it’s not a good goal to strive toward.Report

  12. As a casual user of a table saw, my mantra is “Be afraid, be very afraid,” reinforced by the experience of a friend who all but cut off the fingers of one hand with a table saw after taking off the plastic shield. It took almost a decade of microsurgery to give him back about 80% functionality. So I’d pay for it.

    I suppose we’ll see a table saw gray market in California.Report

  13. Pyre says:

    No, I would not.

    As one of the odd jobs that I did between regular employment, I worked in a warehouse assembling table saws with minimal training and little safety equipment. This included things like drilling the holes in the steel used for table saws.

    I also worked for Arby’s whose meat-slicers had no automatic shut-off and a history of finger-lopping when people decided to clean the slicer by turning it on and holding the rag against the blade without wearing the chain mail glove.

    I realize that even the most careful person slips up but that strikes me as an operator error issue.

    As for the overall question, I think that the policy which would be most fair is that any law which forces manufacturers to add such devices also mandates the CA government to pay the extra cost for the safety device installation for the next 5 years. Glass gets his money. CA legislature gets to take a hard look at whether the cost/benefit ratio is still considered favorable when they have to pay for what they legislate both monetarily and politically. After 5 years, volume pricing will bring down the cost to something that the saw manufacturers will be able to swallow. CA residents get safer table saws in exchange for a “5 year” tax of pennies.Report

  14. wardsmith says:

    In a similar vein the GFCI (Ground Fault Circuit Interrupt) was invented by Charles Dalziel a Berkeley professor back in the late 60’s IIRC. Looking around a bit here is the code requirements for them:
    1971 Receptacles within 15 feet of pool walls
    1971 All equipment used with storable swimming pools
    1973 All outdoor receptacles
    1974 Construction Sites
    1975 Bathrooms, 120-volt pool lights, and fountain equipment
    1978 Garages, spas, and hydro-massage tubs
    1978 Outdoor receptacles above 6feet 6inches grade access exempted
    1984 Replacement of non-grounding receptacles with no grounding conductor allowed
    1984 Pool cover motors
    1984 Distance of GFCI protection extended to 20 feet from pool walls
    1987 Unfinished basements
    1987 Kitchen countertop receptacles within 6 feet of sink
    1987 Boathouses
    1990 Crawlspaces (with exception for sump pumps or other dedicated equip.)
    1993 Wet bar countertops within 6 feet of sink
    1993 Any receptacle replaced in an area presently requiring GFCI
    1996 All kitchen counters – not just those within 6 feet of sink
    1996 All exterior receptacles except dedicated de-icing tape receptacle
    1996 Unfinished accessory buildings at or below grade
    1999 Exemption for dedicated equipment in crawlspace removed

    I’m guessing less people were electrocuted per year than 40K, but of course a GFCI only cost about 12 bucks. Back in the 70’s I think they were about $40 (a lot of money then) and there were a lot of howls about installing them during bathroom remodels. Seemed like a no-brainer to me given the alternative (especially with high current devices like blow dryers).

    There is a long time story that Charles put his own daughter into a bathtub and threw a radio into it to demonstrate the GFCI’s effectiveness. Since their introduction they have save thousand of livesReport

  15. Jason Kuznicki says:

    My question for Mr. Gass is, if you had to agree to give up your patents in order for this to become law in California, how much would you require by way of compensation for you to regard this as a fair exchange?

    I would think a way to establish fair compensation would begin by considering the amount of time he spent working on the device.

    My question for the League: if you don’t own a table saw, would you consider this a necessary safety feature?

    I know so little about carpentry that I can’t say how I’d feel about it.Report

  16. Kolohe says:

    “What would Jesus do?” is also a relevant question in this case.Report

  17. Michael E says:

    Why not make an after-market add on?

    Or make his own brand of table saws with the device?

    In either or both cases he could prove the market via info-mercial – like the late Billy Mays and OxiClean: it started out only available via info-mercial and now is integrated into many name-brand household products.

    Nope. In a free-market system, to which we should all aspire, there is no need to impose safety regulation from on-high. People who think consumers should have safety devices on all the products they buy are the ones who should put up or shut up.

    Let’s talk about medical treatments for a moment: Every year hundreds if not thousands of good ideas for drugs and devices never make it to market. Start-up drug and device companies are notoriously fragile in the market, the slightest push-back from the FDA and the stock of such companies falls to pennies. Check out BioSpace GenePool for many examples.

    If we are to apply the precautionary principle, which is the underlying argument in this and all cases of mandating safety features, then we should all be taxed to ensure that each and every good idea for a new drug and device makes it to the marketplace. Heck, forget about the marketplace, every good idea for safety and health should be installed as quickly as possible in every product and every drug should be free.


    I always thought that the free market was the way of applying the precautionary principle to the precautionary principle. Since no one knows for certain what the true consequences are of their actions or of using the things they create, societies use the free market as an “infinite Beta test.” If something works as advertised and *people like using it,* then the product or idea will sell. If *people don’t like using it,* for whatever reason, then the product or idea will not sell, and it is up to the company to find out why and to change the product and/or their marketing to help consumers like the product/idea better.

    What we have instead is that companies go crying to government, “It’s not fair that people won’t buy my product/idea of their own free will. You gotta MAKE ’em!”

    And, for some strange reason, we keep electing legislators and executives who are willing to create laws that force us to comply.Report

    • Patrick Cahalan in reply to Michael E says:

      You misread the story. Glass in fact has his own line of table saws which he started after he couldn’t get one of the big players to buy his device, quite profitable, which is what has given him the money to lobby.Report

  18. Mike Dwyer says:

    I’m all for safety features when they don’t ruin the product. I’m less scared of table saws because I take a lot of precautions, using push bars and such when needed. The one power tool I have that does scare me though is my circular saw. I don’t know why but that is the one where I am always afraid of catching a finger or something flying off into my forehead or sneaking under my safety glasses.Report

  19. David Ryan says:

    The fact that the self-professed carpenter’s main concern is the loss of a $100 saw blade if and only if the machine works as designed and saves him a lost finger tells us everything we need to know.Report

  20. Kris says:

    I don’t own a table saw and I consider this to be a necessary feature for the saw I don’t have.

    I am hoping it will help my fingers from being cut off by the saw I don’t have.


    • wardsmith in reply to Kris says:

      Kris, you’re closer than you think. How many of Kalifornia’s legisslavers do you believe even OWN a table saw, let alone would ever use one? This regulation quite literally costs them nothing.Report

      • Kris in reply to wardsmith says:

        Is Handy Smurf a legislator in Kalifornia?

        Actually, I think this is a good law. The freedom to cut your fingers off is overrated as a freedom. IMO.


  21. Another Mike says:

    As a latecomer to this party, I ask: 1) what about all the existing table saws now in service? Will it be required they be retrofitted with the finger-saver?
    2) And don’t forget the radial arm saw. I own both and see the radial arm much more hazardous… that sliding saw unit looking for a finger absentmindedly left in its path.
    3) If California institutes such a law the sales of saws in Nevada will skyrocket; don’t forget Craigslist.

    The CA legislature making market-based decisions…. what could go wrong??Report

  22. Alex R. says:

    The economic question is not being properly framed. It is not, “How much does a saw blade cost?” It is “Is the cost of losing a finger more than the cost of losing a saw blade?” Obviously the cost of losing a saw blade, including the time for a trip to the hardware store, plus any possible repairs on the saw is far less than the cost of losing at least one finger.

    In fact, if you lose all your saw blades, plus you lose your saw, plus you lose a couple days of work, it will still cost less than losing a finger(s). Even if you have an HMO with fairly small copays, you will not go back to work the day after losing a finger(s), and the overall cost of not having a finger(s) will outweigh any possible loss due to having a safety device installed on your saw.Report

    • Tom Van Dyke in reply to Alex R. says:

      How many fingers we talking here?

      U.S. emergency rooms treated 66,900 saw blade-related injuries in 2007 and 2008, with amputations accounting for 12% of those cases, according to the U.S. Consumer Product Safety Commission. The economic cost of those accidents topped $2.3 billion each year, the agency said.

      No specific California figures are available, but officials estimate that the state accounts for 1 in 10 table-saw injuries nationwide.

      That’s a 2 year total. Kind of a cheat.

      12% of 67K = 8000 or so. 1/10 in California = 800. Half of that = 400, yearly average.

      Most of ’em are fingertips, not whole fingers, if I can judge by google. Losing a fingertip sucks but you can still play guitar, or at least Jerry Garcia and Tony Iommi could.

      Plus, reattachment surgery lessens the numbers. Plus this survey of court cases indicates the user is often negligent as well.

      So I dunno. The economic equation isn’t as clear cut with a little digging.

      “Hood ornaments. They were just lovely, and they gave a sense of respect. And they took ‘em away because if you can save one human life- that’s always the argument- it’s worth it, if you can save one human life. Actually, I’d be willing to trade maybe a dozen human lives for a nice hood ornament.”—Michael O’DonoghueReport

      • Alex R. in reply to Tom Van Dyke says:

        I haven’t had my coffee yet, but using your figures… (I almost wrote “using your fingers…”)

        12% of table saw injuries are amputations. With a total cost for all table saw injuries of 2.3 billion, we do the following math:

        12 % of 2,300,000,000 = 276,000,000.

        This is the total economic cost of amputations per year.

        12% of those 66,900 injuries are amputations.

        Thus, 12% of 66,900 = 8028 amputations.

        So the total economic cost per amputation, nationwide is $276,000,000 divided by 8028 = 34379.67

        $34,379.67 is one heck of a lot of money.

        But let’s assume that I’m wrong. Let’s assume that I’ve misplaced a decimal someplace (not likely as I’ve used a calculator) and the proper cost of an amputation is only ten percent of the number I’m proposing, or $3,437.96.

        Thats still considerably more than the cost of a brand new saw and a lost day of work. Keep in mind that even if your cost after losing a finger is less than that number, someone, someplace is paying the total bill, either through insurance rates or through taxes. Obviously, how the state handles this issue is another matter; I’m not planning to go there, but anyone who says, “I might lose a $60.00 saw blade, so I won’t buy this saw” isn’t reasoning clearly.Report

  23. Kazzy says:

    We’re going to leave in place an exemption for all the practicers of faiths that REQUIRE they chop their hot dogs with a table saw, yes?Report