engineer

tim   .

                                                      


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.   hunkin

                                                         


cartoonist

 

THE SECRET LIFE OF THE OFFICE  1993

'The Secret Life of Machines' was the title of   3 TV series about the history and workings of everyday machines, shown on C4 in Britain, and on the discovery channel everywhere else.

THE FAX MACHINE

THE LIFT (ELEVATOR)

THE WORD PROCESSOR

THE ELECTRIC LIGHT

THE PHOTOCOPIER

THE OFFICE

They are all now on Youtube. 
If you want to download them, here are some of the options: 

The complete films are now online as streaming video and downloads for mobile phones, hosted by The Exploratorium, San Fransisco

You can also download MPEG2 files of the whole films from http://sciencezero.4hv.org/tslom.htm 
This link only works at the beginning of each month until their bandwidth is used up.
Alternative download sites: http://www.techno-fandom.org/slom.shtml
 http://www.secretlifeofmachines.net/

This site has all the films in high quality video formats more suited to today's gadgets
http://slinq.com/secret-life-of-machines/  

The cartoon booklets I wrote to accompany the TV series are at www.secretlifeofmachines.com.

 

WORD PROCESSOR ROBOT
big robot.jpg (20156 bytes)

The robot, made with Greville White and Jim Bond, appeared at the end of the word processor programme. The mouth is a printer spewing out computer paper. Everything is held onto the scaffolding frame with polythene bailer twine and fast fuse (which burns at about a foot a second). The bits of fast fuse are joined by quick match so they ignite almost simultaneously. It looked wonderful on film (see end of the word processor episode), mainly due to Mike Cole’s bolex camera in a box, dug into the ground, just where the computers fell.
robot explode.jpg (13782 bytes)

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THE VICTORIAN FAX (1843)
Inspired by the original in the musee Arts et Metier in Paris, I spent weeks perfecting my own version. I could only get it to work using a transistor to amplify the signal to mark the recording paper. I can’t imagine how the original managed to work. (In the same vein, I never worked out how Poulson’s original 1910 telegraphone, the first tape recorder, managed to work without electronic amplification).
fax.jpg (14769 bytes)

OTIS LIFT DEMONSTRATION
Model of Otis’s safety mechanism for the lift, demonstrated by Rex cutting through the rope holding me up.
lift.jpg (15579 bytes)

THE SECRET LIFE OF MACHINES 3, UPDATE 2004

The fax episode looks outdated simply because of my opening statement ‘the fax is the wonder of the age’. Business has become so much more email orientated in the last ten years that the fax machine in my office now sits for days without sending or receiving anything. I feel a bit sad about it, as I prefer handwriting and drawing to tapping at a keyboard - I can only stare at a computer screen for a couple of hours a day. The thermal paper has disappeared, as inkjet technology has become cheaper, so all fax machines now print on plain paper. The big shift, equally relevant to the word processors, is that manufacturers have realised that they can earn much more from selling ink cartridges than from selling machines. Today a cartridge can cost nearly %50 of the cost of a complete machine.  Fax over the internet is now sometimes used, simply as a secure way of sending documents.

Lifts haven’t changed much. When I made the film the experts were predicting a shift from DC lift motors to AC motors, made possible by increasingly sophisticated digital speed control systems, but DC motors have had a revival – I suspect this is because its just very hard to match the amazing starting torque of a simple DC motor. 

Word processor programmes have become a lot more fancy. Today, I would include a bit about Word’s unbelievably irritating office assistant. More serious is the whole issue of programme bloat. As computers have become more powerful, the software has expanded in step. I’m not convinced word processing needs to be quite so ‘sophisticated’, the added features remind me of the 1950s marketing of refrigerators (see series 1, chapter 11). 

Electric lighting is gradually changing – Ten years ago I would never have thought LEDs could become so spectacularly bright! Super bright LEDs still have narrow niche markets at the moment, but it won’t be long before they take over the world. This is good, as they waste little energy as heat,  and as they are naturally directional, their light can be used very efficiently. 

Photocopiers have lost their status as more documents are stored electronically. Some are now ‘digital’ copiers, which are really a combined scanner, computer and printer.  Much of the mechanism has become disposable, in many machines the whole drum and toner unit are swapped every few thousand copies. This reduces the need for skilled maintenance engineers and increases the profits for the manufacturers.        

Office buildings haven’t changed much, though buildings with curved, rounded shapes now seem to be the fashion. To some degree this is due to architects realising the potential of CAD design. It is CAD that has made it practical to design buildings where all the bits of steel and glass are different shapes.  Inside the office, life has changed little – my Utopia Services team have aged surprisingly well.   

Tim Hunkin, Jan 2004

 

  Secret life of machines 1     Secret life of machines 2
Secret life of machines 1     Secret life of machines 2

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