Monday, October 6, 2008

Some Nostalgia

We did this occasionally on my old blog. Hopefully it is a little less controversial than the LHC :)

From my friend Michael Haskins:

How many do you remember?

Head lights dimmer switches on the floor.
Ignition switches on the dashboard.
Heaters mounted on the inside of the fire wall.
Real ice boxes.
Pant leg clips for bicycles without chain guards.
Soldering irons you heat on a gas burner.
Using hand signals for cars without turn signals.

Older Than Dirt Quiz: Count all the ones that you remember not the ones you
were told about Ratings at the bottom.

1. Blackjack chewing gum
2. Wax Coke-shaped bottles with colored sugar water
3 Candy cigarettes
4. Soda pop machines that dispensed glass bottles
5 Coffee shops or diners with tableside juke boxes
6 Home milk delivery in glass bottles with cardboard stoppers
7. Party lines
8. Newsreels before the movie
9. P.F. Flyers
10. Butch wax
11. Telephone numbers with a word prefix (OLive-6933)
12. Peashooters
13. Howdy Doody
14. 45 RPM records
15. S&H Green Stamps
16 Hi-fi's
17 Metal ice trays with lever
18 Mimeograph paper
19 Blue flashbulb
20. Packards
21. Roller skate keys
22. Cork popguns
23. Drive-ins
24. Studebakers
25 Wash tub wringers

If you remembered 0-5 = You're still young
If you remembered 6-10 = You are getting older
If you remembered 11-15 = Don't tell your age,
If you remembered 16-25 = You're older than dirt!

I have some more - some more modern, some much less so: How many of these things do you both remember, or better, remember using regularly:

1. 5 1/4 inch floppies (or better yet, 8 inch floppies). Bonus points if you remember the capacities of 5.25 and 8 inch disks. Extra bonus points if you had a computer that loaded the operating system on floppies.

2. The TRS-80

3. Pure-text internet. The idea from this post came from John's reference to Usenet. Bonus points if you used the pure-text internet on a machine with floppy-loaded operating system and a monochrome (green) monitor, connected via a 2400 baud modem. (Bonus points if you thought 2400 baud was impossibly fast.)

4. A modem (probably 1200 or maybe even 300 baud) that involved sticking the phone handset into large rubber cups.

5. Gopher

6. Loading an IP stack into Windows For Workgroups 3.11 to connect to the internet via a modem (maybe 4800 or even 9600 baud).

Moving on to some non-internet stuff:

7. The TV antenna on the roof of your house that had a large dial on top of the TV to rotate and point it (I may have used that one in my old blog).

8. Cable TV with 13 (or fewer) channels.

9. Making coffee with a percolator, or even by putting the grounds directly in a pot of water and boiling them (folks who camp or spend a lot of time in remote areas without electricity (Jim maybe?) probably not only remember that but still do it that way.

10. Those "All in one" stereo systems that combined a turntable, cassette player, and receiver in one, cheap, enclosure. Speakers were usually separate. Double bonus points if you had one of those in quadraphonic.

One of my new favourite TV shows is "Mad Men", because of its very authentic and detailed portrayal of life in the early 1960s. I wish there were a web page accounting all the little details about this show - many of which I know from experience are authentic, and others which I don't personally remember but accordingly couldn't dispute.

I really think the recent past has a lot to teach us about the present and the future. To try to figure out where we are going, it is imperative to understand how we got here. I just hope our immediate future looks more like the 50s or 60s, or even 70s (!) than the 1930s, which is what it looks like right now.

Some follow up: I scored "older than dirt" on Mike's list above, but I'm really not. I'm a Gen-X-er, albeit one of the oldest, and that makes me hardly even middle-aged. The point is that there has been a heck of a lot of change, in society, in technology, in life, just in our lifetimes.

I've written before (maybe here, I'd have to check) that the rate of technological change has been slowing, and in some areas we've gone backwards For example, we can't fly to the moon today, and I bet that had you polled rocket scientists, not to mention ordinary people, in 1969 or 1973, they would have said travel to the moon would be routine by 2008. Had you told the folks on Apollo 17 that they were making possibly the last trip to the moon EVER, they absolutely would not have believed it. They still had hope for the future.

I get the impression that the rate of social change is slowing as well, but this is a much less precise metric. The last generation saw the "liberation" of women (which I, as an apparently very politically incorrect retro chauvinist type guy, still don't understand), and the realization of substantial social equality, which I do understand. The most recent major change seems to involve acceptance of sexual choices and preference, which I think is a very different "revolution" than the others, and I don't think we have a clue what it means.

What's next? What frontiers of inequality or unfairness remain to be conquered? Unfortunately I think the future could involve the pendulum swinging back the other way, rather than continuing on in the direction of progressive change.

I think the fact that I cringed when I wrote the word "progressive" is somehow an indication of so-far dimly appreciated future trends. Who could be against "progressive"? Yet the word has deep, subconscious political baggage.

Anyway, I think appreciation and understanding of the past is going to be increasingly important, because our current historical cycle has just plain run out of steam, so the future is not going to resemble the recent past at all. The question is whether it will resemble anything to which we can relate in any way.


Jeri said...

Huh - I scored "older than dirt" too - although I, too am either a very young baby boomer or elder gen-Xer, depending on who you listen to.

From your added techno-antique list, I've used all of those except the tv antenna control. I used to play a pure-text Star Trek game - and enter data into a computer that echoed each line to a printer, rather than displayed text on a monitor.

John the Scientist said...

I subscribe to "Chemical Heritage", and a recent article on the history of technology noted that early 20th century people didn't all hop in cars at once - there was considerable overlap with horse-drawn vehicles and automobile, horse plows and tractors. Due to cost, conservatism, bugs in new technology, and lack of fit-for-special-purpose new technology, it takes a while for technology to fade. The poorer you are, and the more rural area you live in, the more likely you are to have experiences that overlap with previous generations. I used punch cards long, long after magnetic media restored them because my mom was a teacher, and the county school library system used them because they didn't update that computer system until 1976.

I saw Howdy Doody in reruns because I lived near DC, and the home station for that show still ran them.

The school system still used mimeograph paper (I miss the smell of that ink) long after copiers were in use in business, again for budget issues.

My grandmother's elderly washing machine had a wringer because it still worked and she saw no need to buy a new one. So the term "tit caught in the wringer" makes me cringe, because I know exactly how painful that would be. :)

Some things do fade quickly, though. They still had table-side juke boxes, glass-bottle dispensing soda machines (remember how the metal bottle top used to score your hand when the machine wasn't well-oiled and you had to yank that sucker out), Green Stamps, blue flash bulbs, wax coke-bottle sugar water and candy cigarettes, but those things stopped rather abruptly, and I don't think people even 5 years younger than I remember them.

I certainly don't remember word-prefix numbers, party lines, or newsreels.

John the Scientist said...

Oh yes, I remember all of your tech ones. I used 8-inch floppies when I learned Pascal on a mainframe in 7th grade when I was in the Johns-Hopkins science and math program they have over the summers at selected colleges. But by the time I got to college, the 3 inch floppies were coming out.

CW said...

Great stuff... I remember that Star Trek game - I played it when I was in the 6th grade on a PDP-11 (I think it was) with those green-and-white paper printers. Only the sysadmins had CRT monitors. Later, in college, we still used those green-and-white printers to print out our programs written on the Vax 11/780.

It's true that the bottle vending machines, candy cigarrettes, etc disappeared fast, and I sure remember the pain of trying to get the bottles out of a stiff machine. I always wondered why the bottles didn't break. The coke machine at our church costs .10 when I was in elementary school, and I remember thinking it was a horrible travesty when the price went up to .15.

Although I saw those old wringer machines around, no one in my family still had one that I can remember. We did, however, still have party lines and word-prefix numbers in rural NC when I was very young. My great-grandmother still had a phone with no dial where you had to call the operator (by turning the crank) and say something like "Hey Flo, can you ring up the grocery store, I need them to deliver some milk and sugar". At school, we still had mimeo machines until I graduated high school, because the schools I attended simply couldn't afford Xerox machines, which cost thousands.

I still know people (here in rural NC) who farm with horses.

My point (I think) is that it seems kind of like we're hitting a wall with regards to technological and social change, but I'm not positive that's true.

I think I'm going to do another post about this.

kimby said...

Up until a few years ago, my father was still on a party line...and my step father still is. They have no cable, and seven years ago, the farm where i grew up finally got running water. (we always had running water, but it had to be trucked in, and measured every few days to make sure that we didn't run out. The closest city finally ran water lines out that way)
I grew up getting milk from the barn, eggs from the chickens, and we had a hand pump in the back yard for when we wanted drinking water...saved on trucking the water out to us)

I scored older than dirt..but I would love to be able to trade a lot of what i have now, for the way it used to be.