Control your magnetic tapes

Today I made a typo in the shell: instead of m trc (m being my alias for less and trc the name of some trace file), I accidentally typed mt rc. To my surprise, the system didn’t respond with zsh: command not found: mt. It responded with this message:

mt: invalid argument ‘rc’ for ‘operation’
Valid arguments are:
  - ‘eof’, ‘weof’
  - ‘fsf’
  - ‘bsf’
  - ‘fsr’
  - ‘bsr’
  - ‘rewind’
  - ‘offline’, ‘rewoffl’, ‘eject’
  - ‘status’
  - ‘bsfm’
  - ‘eom’
  - ‘retension’
  - ‘erase’
  - ‘asf’
  - ‘fsfm’
  - ‘seek’

Say, what? I’ve been using Unix-like systems for REDACTED years, but I don’t remember ever having used an mt command. And so I checked the fine manual:

MT(1)                              GNU CPIO                              MT(1)

       mt - control magnetic tape drive operation

       mt [-V] [-f device] [--file=device] [--rsh-command=command] [--version]
       operation [count]

       This manual page documents the GNU version  of  mt.   mt  performs  the
       given operation, which must be one of the tape operations listed below,
       on a tape drive.

       The  default  tape  device  to  operate  on  is  taken  from  the  file
       /usr/include/sys/mtio.h  when  mt is compiled.  It can be overridden by
       giving a device file name in the environment variable TAPE or by a com‐
       mand  line  option  (see  below),  which also overrides the environment

Now I admit that I am not too keen to upgrade my Ubuntu, but it’s not that ancient, either. It turns out that an Ubuntu distribution released in 2018 actually installs a program to control magnetic tape drive operation! I know, I know, the program is likely useful for other things as well, and tar is technically also short for “tape archiver”, but it still feels a bit silly to carry this cruft into the 21st century.

And people say that Windows is arcane in its support for DOS graphics and x86 addressing modes.