MachinePix Weekly #60

This week's most popular post was magnetic tape machine. Next week: Jason Crawford, founder of Roots of Progress, discusses progress studies and industrialization.

Next week, Jason Crawford will be my guest on MachinePix Weekly #61. Jason is the man behind Roots of Progress, a nonprofit dedicated to progress studies: an intellectual movement to understand the causes of human progress in order to accelerate it.

Naturally, progress studies has a lot of overlap with industrial machines, and Jason’s popular writings include Why AC won the Electricity Wars, Instant stone (just add water!) on the history of concrete, and my personal favorite: Why did we wait so long for the bicycle?

Previous MachinePix interviews have touched on various important topics of progress studies: in issue #55 Brian Potter explained advances in different construction materials, and in issue #22 Simon Winchester walked through the history of how humans achieved increasing levels of precision from the first steam engine to gravitational-wave observatories; I’m looking forward to discussing with Jason a framework for understanding all the above in the context of human progress.

I’m also looking forward to a book on the history of industrial civilization that Jason is writing—you can get updates here.

The most popular post this week was a cassette loader (more about how it works here). Magnetic tape remains one of the most reliable ways to store data: it requires no power to store (in contrast, power cycling hard drives reduces their reliability), it can be spliced together when damaged, it lasts a long time (~30 years versus ~5 years for hard drives) and it’s really, really cheap. Tape technology is still being developed, and it’s the backbone of Amazon S3 Glacier Deep Archive Storage. AWS even has an arcane product called Tape Gateway which virtualizes magnetic tape in the cloud by providing tape-level reliability guarantees through clever abstraction of various S3 products.

I’m always looking for interesting people to interview, have anyone in mind?


The Week in Review

This machine is advertised as suitable for cycling, wheelchair, roller ski, and skating.

I couldn’t identify this metal: guesses include zinc, lead, gallium, or one of their alloys like ZAMAK. Anyone know? Previous posts have featured machines for forming much harder metals.


I had a chance to use analog night vision in the desert, and it was a very intense experience. It qualitatively more than doubled the number of stars in the night sky, a jump in visible stars comparable to moving from a city to the desert in the first place.

If you enjoyed this newsletter, forward it to friends (and interesting enemies). I am always looking to connect with interesting people and learn about interesting machines—reach out.