by David Welsh -

Alva dumped his new robot kit out of the box and tangled wires and cogs splashed onto his father's work bench. A blue football-shaped metal head looked up at him from the mess, and the unlit electronic eyes glimmered in the light of the lone bulb hanging overhead in the garage.

He begged his parents for a Bot-in-a-Box for his birthday, and now he regretted it. Overwhelmed, Alva dropped his head on the table and stared sideways at the bold label. 


Astound Your Friends,

Build It Yourself!

“The commercials made this look so simple,” he sighed.

Alva's friends called again and again to ask if he finished building the kit. He promised he would program the Bot-in-a-Box to play baseball with them. They always needed someone on the mound, and he dreaded their disappointment. But Alva couldn't get through the manual without dozing, so he pitched the booklet into the wastebasket.

“Who has time to read all those directions anyway?”

Alva felt confident with a wrench in his hands, so he set to work. The clamor of Alva's banging and ratcheting echoed around the neighborhood. He smiled when he heard all the limbs clicking into place, and he spun the head around the screw until it only wobbled a little. The battery slot was too small, so he had to wiggle and shove the rechargeable pack into place.

The robot looked different from the picture on the box, but Alva was proud of his work.  It had round honey-colored eyes, a playful silver grin, and it was as tall as his dad. Its steel skin was a proud blue. Flexible fingers made from dozens of gears and cables sprouted from the ends of its long arms, and the little wheels on the robot's feet made them look like roller skates.

“Almost finished,” said Alva as he tightened a few screws.

The robot needed a name before Alva booted it up for the first time. He took a thick black marker and scrawled “Box-E” across its chest. Then he took a deep breath and twisted the dial to the "On" position. The robot beeped once and sat motionless. Its eyes lit up, gazing toward the wall.

Alva glanced at the trashed manual in the waste basket. “I forgot to program it. There's gotta be a faster way.”

Then Alva remembered that his Uncle George could play any song on the piano after hearing it once. Could his robot learn the same way? He lugged a TV into the garage and turned on the baseball game. Alva's heroes broke home run records, pitched perfect games, and clinched the championship. Box-E's eyes flickered as he took it all in, and cryptic lines of code flashed by on the computer screen. It worked!

Alva heard his mother call him for dinner, and he sprinted up the stairs. The robot sat in front of the television, forgotten.

And learning...

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