Archive for the 'retro' Category

May 23 2010

Biggest Mouse I Ever Heard About

Published by under retro

A neat idea implemented big in 1972. You needed a big desk to use it.

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Jan 17 2010

The economy is improving?

Published by under General,retro

Friday, the postwoman brought us two unsolicited offers of credit cards! The first offers I’ve recieved in I don’t know how long. Probably about a year. Used to get them by the bushel, but that all dried up during the height of the ‘credit crisis’ which is now must be seriously easing. Or, maybe this was a fluke to be followed my more months of bleak economic news. No one can forecast the economy very well. I sure can’t

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Dec 02 2009

Jude the Obscure

Published by under Books,retro

by Thomas Hardy
This novel is over 100 years old, but was still a good ‘read’. A somewhat polemic novel that was quite critical of the contemporary late Victorian cultural institutions; especially scholastic and religious. It tells the tale of a doomed romance between two young cousins. Doomed by societal pressures around appropriate behavior; especially around marriage. Apparently, this novel was viewed as scandalous when it was written, and the negative reception it received convinced Hardy to stop writing novels!
Its criticism of religion, the scholastic world, and marriage have become very conventional:
– An English church more concerned about apparent form and obedience than religious beliefs.
– A scholastic world which is elitist and give too much precedence to the moneyed and powerful while ignoring ‘true’ learning.
– Marriage as a tyrannical relationship which kills ‘love’ more than encourages it; especially for women.
Overall, the story is a pretty dismal tale: a forced marriage, an impoverished youth who dreams of being a scholar, a loveless marriage, a doomed love that ends disastrously, and murder and suicide. Sounds depressing but mainly it wasn’t. It felt truthful though it was pretty easy to see where the story was heading. Keep in mind that this description doesn’t do the book justice, and if you want a better description of the story just google it.

PS. Rather than read this book, I listened to a Libravox.com recording of it. A first for me. The sound and quality of the readers were quite uneven, but it was a good way to ‘read’ the book given my post operation situation at the time. All the libravox recordings are free and in the public domain. A good thing to encourage.

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Feb 25 2009

Secondary Effects

Published by under General,retro

It is no secret that newspapers are in serious decline and a number of them have filed for bankruptcy protection. I haven’t subscribed to a paper in many years and hence am part of their problem. Like many others I get all the news I want via the internet, radio (most radio is via podcasts) and talking to other people. I still read one magazine printed on paper that arrives via the U.S. Mail which includes news related material.
I don’t miss the rather dirty and voluminous newspapers except when I want to cover a floor to protect it from paint or the trunk of my car to protect it from very dirty objects (like loads of garden mulch or compost). What will fill this niche if newspapers disappear? Purchased plastic sheets? That doesn’t sound like a step forward.
Speaking of plastic: In San Francisco, grocery stores can no longer provide plastic bags. This opens up the market for people to sell plastic bags as there still is a needed to line garbage cans.
Somewhere, someone must be saving old plastic grocery bags or newspaper mastheads in hopes of starting a museum for each. Maybe in what used to be a gas station along some highway.

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Sep 22 2008

Investment Banks are retro (as in gone!)

Published by under retro

Seems amazing that all the major U.S. based investment banks will have disappeared in a period of a few short months. Victims of their own imaginative financing vehicles. Unfortunately, the crisis of confidence that has resulted from all the “un able to be valued” but not all valueless paper they produced is having massive impacts whose extent is still not known. Uncertainty and its associated fear is the major problem. Uncertainty about who is holding how much in the way of bad assets has undermined markets functioning.

Ultimately, whenever that is, I expect the write downs of paper (securities) to be excessive and the underlying assets worth more than is thought. Unfortunately, I don’t know when or at what price level that will be reached! If I did ……..

I wonder what companies or mechanisms will eventually provide the functions that those banks provided. Fully private pools of money, I suppose.

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Sep 15 2008

Paper

Published by under General,retro

At the beginning of 2000, we wrote about 35 paper checks per month. For the most recent four months, we’ve averaged about 9 per month with a high of 11 and only 6 last month. We don’t live much differently in most regards, but use electronic bill payment services and credit cards more. A significant portion of the remaining checks are charitable contributions for which the IRS requires a paper trail; more paper than before since acknowledgment letters need to be kept.
Additionally, more credit card statements, bank statements are provided electronically. They can be printed as needed, but why keep a moldering pile of paper?
Newspaper readership is shrinking. Want ads are moving to Craig’s list or equivalent.
Paper books are still useful to use and nice to read, but a gradually increasing portion of our reading is done on a screen. Nice paper used in invitations, etc. still looks and feels good (at least to my generation).
Overall, we seem to be making some progress toward chopping up fewer trees to make paper.

PS. A New York Times artivle on the paper usage from earlier this year.

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Aug 15 2008

Prematurely retro?

Published by under retro

The drillSomewhat shocking to me, but this drill which I acquired some years ago is now retro. Maybe it has been retro for a decade but I didn’t notice till now. It was not inherited from my father, it is not the first drill I bought as an adult but it seems it has still achieved retro status. I would have gone on thinking it was a reasonable electric drill but recently used a “current” model which had a battery pack instead of power cord, a built in chuck (no separate ‘key’ to lose), was easily reversible, and had numerous speed adjustments. Oh well.

I did look to see if the “Skil” brand was still sold and it is in the newer, battery powered configurations. Skil seems to be part of the Bosch conglomerate. I think it used to be an independent American power tool company, but it is probably just a brand name now.

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Feb 19 2008

What’s a Univac?

Published by under retro

I don’t remember where I saw a reference to this very early infomercial on Remington Rand’s Univac computer, but it is worth watching. It explains the pieces and how it works. Neat.

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Nov 22 2007

Kindle or Paper: retro?

Published by under Books,retro

Amazon has announced an electronic book reader with the silly sounding name of “Kindle”. Kindle flames? Burn books? Hmmm. I’ve been fascinated by the idea of electronic paper ever since I first heard of it. A semi static display that can be changed sort of like the old ‘clacking’ departure signs in train stations (they are retro). Sony sells an ebook reader that sounds interesting and now kindle is the second such product supported by a company with deep pockets.

Kindle comes with some nice features. Primarily a wirelessly to Amazon that apparently uses some cell phone network (but it is not a phone). I believe it only connects to Amazon so you’re locked into them for material, and it has pretty serious restrictions on use of the content one might buy from them (such restrictions are euphemistically called DRM or Digital Rights Management as if they were a good thing for consumers). “diveintomark.org” has a clever and pointed summary of Amazon and DRM in the form of a play at “The Future of Reading”. Give it a read.

I still read books in there paper form, but occasionally listen to them on my iPod. I’ve thought about electronic book readers and have been intrigued by the Sony Reader as a possible way of carrying lots of material, but have not bought one yet. Kindle’s wireless update and access to newspaper, magazine and blogs add to the appeal. But the DRM is ugly and encourages the out of control expansion of copyright.

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Aug 10 2007

Spreadsheets: Excel & Numbers

Published by under retro

Apple has introduced a new “spreadsheet” product as part of its iWork suite, and as usual for Apple, it is ‘different’. Not an Excel clone but a page layout oriented numerical table, chart, image and movie masher! Sounds very modern, but it is very retro in that printing paper seems to have been a major factor in its design.nd it is lacking features essential for effective use “on screen”. A very odd choice of features for Apple to have made.

In Numbers, tables can have header or footer rows and header columns, but only one of each. This makes sense in that Apple can then display this corresponding text to make formula much easier to read, but it limits the ability to associate descriptive text for display or printing. In essence, letting ‘programming’ interfere with display. Is that Apple?

So far, its worst deficiency for me is in handling big tables. In Excel, a standard practice is to be able to ‘freeze rows or columns that provide identifying information to rows or columns on the screen to help orient the eye when viewing large sets of data. Near as I can tell there is no way to do that in Numbers. The print view sort of addresses this problem but only very poorly. You can scroll through and edit the pages on the screen and each page will have the header information. But then the paper paradigm again intrudes unnecessarily.

On the positive side, the change from one big sheet that is mashed different ways tor different purposes to separate tables, charts, etc. that can be related and manipulated on a “canvas” is a real step forward.
I seem to recall a failed spreadsheet named Canvas which tried this approach years ago. Not sure of that, however. Lotus’ old Symphony also had some of these capabilities. So Numbers is retro and current at the same time. A lot to like, but I’m having to adopt to its limitations and work around them. Haven’t decided to switch.

Update: The old program was apparently called Trapeze

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Jul 18 2007

The Machine Stops

Published by under Books,General,retro

E. M Forster

I have long remembered reading this short story in some high school English class. I didn’t remember it very well, but it is probably the only specific story that I can remember reading after around 50 years. It obviously had a strong impact, and I wanted to ‘read’ it again to refresh my memory. This time I listened to an audio recording provided by Libivox rather than turning pages. The story was written almost 100 years ago and is amazingly prescient about some aspects of the Internet as it now exists. But, it is a dark tale and very much a cautionary tale about over reliance on technology. A highly recommended listen or read. (Internet “haters” will love it.)

If reading it via the Internet is not too uncomfortable, the full text can be found here, and here.

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Jun 05 2007

Magnetic “Beads”

Published by under retro

This blog page has a beautiful close up shot of early magnetic core memory in an IBM 704 built in 1954. The text which is presumably from the accompanying 1954 text refers to the cores as “beads”. In the photo you can make out the two perpendicular wires going through each of the cores on what is a hand made board which contains an array of 6 by 12 cores or 72 bits.

Silly calculations:

  • Were one to build a one gigabit memory board with the same density, it would need to be about 24,000 sq. ft. or approximately half a football field. Can’t imagine the power consumption.
  • Computational capability from the 10 Million ops/hour to today’s CPU chips has grown at an average of about 30%; a doubling in a little less than three years. Slower than Moore’s law predicts. Reflecting the inclusion of a period of this older technology that preceded integrated circuits.

Thanks to a correspondent further west for the link.

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May 30 2007

“Closed” Computers: retro or not?

Published by under retro

Twenty five years ago, an open hardware spec (IBM PC) and a mediocre, proprietary operating system (DOS evolving to various forms of Windows) nearly killed off closed systems which bundled software and hardware (Atari, Apple, et. al.). But now closed systems are making a comeback. First Apple’s Mac is gaining share in the laptop market and is certainly thriving. Then there’s Apple TV and don’t forget the iPod. All are tightly sealed. And now Microsoft seems to be making a move in the same direction. Today they announced their “Surface” table computer; hardware with a slick vista based interface. Initially, it will be only for commercial use. Recently, they also announced developers tools which target the Xbox game machine; another closed system. So maybe we’ll be seeing a variety of ‘applications’ that run on the Xbox which will at least turn it into an Internet client and maybe more.

Microsoft seems to be moving away from all soft to closed hard(ware)? Open they’ve neer been.

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May 27 2007

Honking Horn

Published by under retro

The automobile horn has lost it’s role as a communications device used to call a person, typically but not always a teenager, from his or her house to a waiting automobile. Rarely used(?) now Generally, it has been replaced by a cell phone call or text message from the driver of the car.
The end of a tradition and a small part of the answer to the question of what did we do before we had cell phones.

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May 23 2007

Time for retro “Newton” to return?

Published by under retro

With a designation of “retro tech” this page is essential reading. A “gushing” review of a very old, by computer standards, “failed” technology; Apple’s Newton. With all the advances in hardware since the Newton was first produced, it might now be a good package. Add several gigs of storage, a fast processor, wireless and cellular connectivity and you have a nice package.

Probably won’t come from Apple. (Unless they call it an iPhone)

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