A Secret of the Economics of Manufacturing

I saw this quote in an article on E-Ink:

If you ever want to make a billion of anything cheaply, you print it. 

What an interesting observation! With such interesting far reaching consequences:

  • Nano Solar is on the right track, crystaline solar is not.
  • Diamond Age-style nano-assembly is not quite a sure bet, and mass-customization by table-top fabs will clearly never be able to compete on price with items that are printed. Though another way of looking at nano-assembly is to recognize that nature manufactures far more, far cheaper, than all the printing presses in the world…
  • Things that are flat, flexible, and where the complexity is expressed in 2D will always be cheaper than their competitors which violate one of those constraints of printing presses.

It also further informs my day dreaming about clay tablets: a system for preserving data needs to be flat, flexible, and 2D. My “dots on ceramic” design might still be able to fit the bill, but the kind of uber-cheap ceramic I was thinking of (i.e. the same stuff in the 20 cent porcelin plates at Ikea) won’t be the material, something else will be. But what? What can go roll-to-roll in a printing press environment, but has the chemical stability of ceramics? I’m feeling like I really wish there was a layman’s introduction to ceramics on my reading list right now. Anyone? Anyone? Bueller?

PS: On Tuesday, I was at the British Museum, and I saw some nice presses there. Across town at the London Museum of Science I saw some really great steam engines. Some day I want make my own table-top steam engine and have my own printing press (and a good collection of moveable type) in the garage. And just for super-geek status, I was thinking it would be interesting to find some semi-automated way to convert OpenType fonts into metal type for my press. All the idle dreams of a retro computist, I suppose.

PPS: Major disappointment at the London Science Museum: the Clock of the Long Now is locked up in an exhibit that’s under construction and is thus not on display. I hope it’s still running at least! I was really looking forward to seeing it after reading Anathem. Another disappointment: I got so wrapped up in the steam engines, I didn’t have time to see the working Difference Engine, just Babbage’s malfunctioning model. (The story of my life… I get distracted and miss the working computer for the broken one…)

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