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The Secret Life of Machines

Premier :: 1988-01-01

on Channel 4

Genre :: Documentary
8.3/10


The Secret Life of Machines poster
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Summary

Tim Hunkin explains how the machines we use every day actually work, using a fascinating combination of experiments, analogies, animation, and larger-than-lifesize working models. The TV series was the outgrowth of a series of cartoons for the Observer newspaper called "The Rudiments of Wisdom", which Tim researched and drew for 14 years. The theme music is a version of Dave Brubeck's "Take Five" by Val Bennett, retitled "The Russians are Coming".

Latest Episode

Series 3 - Episode 1 - The Fax Machine
Aired - 01 January 1993

Episode summary:

Models: The "human fax" had Tim and Rex stand at opposite ends of a big field. Tim steps slowly over a sheet printed with giant letters of a message and uses coloured paddles to signal Rex who walks over a similar large sheet with a paint roller, applying paint when he sees the signal. Everything is synchronized with a metronome. The next model uses a board with nail at one each end which closes a circuit in contact with raised metal type. The current causes the nail at the other end to heat a sheet of paper soaked in potasium ferra cyanide. A "string fax" consisting of two drums shows how a picture can be transmitted one line at a time. The "lathe fax" uses a light detector hooked up to a buzzer which is then transmitted through the headset of a normal phone. A lathe at the other end has a sound switch which sends a current through the treated paper at every pulse from the sender lathe. The 2nd "human fax" emulates a digital fax with large grids placed over both Tim and Rex's sheets. Guests: A pair of French Pantelographe de Casell c.1860. A hydrogen balloon used for weather telemetry. A modern fax analyzer. Films: Cartoon life of Alexander Bain (patenter of the fax 150 years ago). Old newsreel featuring early developments in newsgathering. 70's xerox office fax ad. Extro: Tim's homemade Pantelograph. Notes: Another good intro, a sort of rambling outdoor office (notice the paintcan full of Tippex (whiteout) on the desk). This is my absolute favourite episode because it provides an unparalleled ratio of illustrative genius to technological mystery!

Watch Episodes Online - Episode Guide

+ Series 3

+ Episode - 6 The Office Aired - 01 January 1993
+ Episode - 5 The Photocopier Aired - 01 January 1993
+ Episode - 4 The Electric Light Aired - 01 January 1993
+ Episode - 3 The Word Processor Aired - 01 January 1993
+ Episode - 2 The Lift Aired - 01 January 1993
+ Episode - 1 The Fax Machine Aired - 01 January 1993

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