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Simple Machines: The Backbone of Hardware

Updated: Aug 28, 2023

One of the courses from last semester was a fascinating class called Understanding Science Through Photography, led by instructor Nick Murgo. When I saw that the course was being offered as a full-blown Science class (not just an elective), I was excited! Not only would the course offer an educational component, it was also a great motivator for me to grab my DLSR and start pumping out some photos.

Part of the capstone was to create a magazine article. We were given the mandatory parameter to build our discussion and analysis around the usage of simple machines. Using that parameter, I decided to talk about how simple machines have changed the landscape of devices and hardware. Here you will find the body of the faux article, as well as the final graphic that was used. Enjoy!

Change. The word can be terrifying to those who cannot find themselves being adaptable to a quickly moving situation. The world of technology has changed so much that there is a sense of exploring the unknown as we collectively stumble into the vast interconnectedness of the Information Age.

The nuts and bolts are still all there, though. When we power up our devices or spend hours behind them, we aren’t so weary of the small, simple machines that hold our hardware together to keep them running efficiently for years to come.

As lifelong students of the science of information technology, it is easy to become hypnotized by the seemingly mystical aspects of the said world: the transmission of data through the air (wireless technology), quantum computing, and nanotechnology. While all of these fascinating, groundbreaking feats of human engineering are keeping us up at night, we seem to have taken for granted the comparatively uncomplicated mechanisms that hold the foundations of these innovations together.

One of our favorite hobbies at Kinetic Magazine is traversing through the halls of academia to find some research that piques our interest. One of our interns here discovered a very intriguing article in none other than the Journal of Accountancy, a piece of literature most frequently found in the home of a CPA. In the spring of 1989, the Journal of Accountancy published a well-written article entitled “Microcomputer Technology: Changing Standards.” The article was designed to help their readers navigate through the dense, often complicated landscape of microprocessors and computing. In 1989, that was a vast wasteland to traverse, especially if we’re talking about individuals working out of a small, home office (which was quite common then).

The bones of the article, written by Christopher Wolfe and Ralph Viator, guide the reader (typically an accountant) through the tedious nuances of operating systems (DOS was transitioning to OS/2 at that time), proprietary hardware, and the particulars of PC architecture. While many of us here at Kinetic struggled to understand how an accountant might fare to read such a technically cumbersome piece of literature, one thing stood out to us here: “Since a PC’s bus is not apparent to the user…” This line, under the System Architecture section of the article, perfectly sums up our point here today. The architecture of any piece of hardware is a variety of simple machines, and components capable of changing the direction or magnitude of a force.

Think of all the screws that hold your motherboard to your chassis. There are levers that ensure your RAM sticks are seated properly. Bladed wheels spin at thousands of RPMs to move hot air away from our precious electronics. When a simple machine and a complex machine come together, this is known as a compound machine. When you go from the micro to macro level, it is hard to argue that many of our devices, no matter how high-tech, are simply just compound machines.

To remain adaptable and resilient, we should approach future endeavors in technology with the idea that compound machines can nest inside other compound machines. This will allow for a delineation of systems and / or a migration of layers as the machines are merged. An automobile is a fantastic example of this blend of compound machines working in conjunction with one another. Often controlled by a central computer, modern vehicles have the capability to calculate thousands of processes per second and translate data to the physical layers of the vehicle. Do emerginga technologies currently have the self-awareness of their own simple and complex machines to create compound machine technologies beyond our wildest imaginations? Time will certainly tell.

Overall, I'm really happy with how this came out (the grade reflected that). I found myself digging into some of my design skills and some of my more forgotten skills from High School when I was taking journalism courses. Thanks for reading!

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