Archive for the 'retro' Category

Mar 07 2007

Many Children’s Stories

Published by under Books,retro

Many children’s stories are retro.  They originated in and tell about the agrarian past.  Putting human characteristics on farm and wild animals, telling of trips to town, kids wandering around and having adventures out in nature.  That’s all pretty retro.

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Feb 15 2007

A Pickpocket’s Tale

Published by under Books,retro

Subtitle: The Underworld of Nineteenth-Century New York
by Timothy J. Gilfoyle

The combined title and subtitle of this book provide a good summary of the its contents. The book is organized around the life of a pickpocket who became relatively famous and notorious in the late nineteenth century and provides an overview of NYC’s underworld during his lifetime.  George Appo, the pickpocket, was a half Chinese half Irish street kid who was abandoned when his father was convicted of murder.  George has to survive by his wits and almost necessarily becomes a thief, pickpocket, etc.  He remained physically very small and became a con man who preferred to avoid violence except in defense (and there was a lot of that).  Appo was apparently an odd character with a strong sense of ‘honor’, as he defined it, and it seems likely that he was very intelligent.  As an adult, he taught himself to read and write, and before he died he wrote an autobiography which was never published.  Short passages from that autobiography are used throughout this book to provide starting points for descriptions of aspects of his life, the NYC Underworld, and the society as a whole.

The book deals with the second half of the nineteenth century which corresponds to Appo’s prime crime years.  Judging by this book, NYC was a very wild place at that time.  Tammany Hall was in power.  What we would now call corruption was rampant: cops and judges had discretion as to which laws they would enforce and when they would enforce them.  Money regularly bought ‘justice’ and preferential treatment.  Billy clubs were used frequently and with gusto by the police.  Opium dens sprouted. Pickpockets flourished as the well to do flaunted their status in public.  Prisons were various combinations of a hotel, a factory supported by slave labor, and a torture chamber which were run by amateurs and political appointees.  Racism was commonplace and accepted.  In a way, the book ended up having an optimistic impact in that some of today’s problems don’t seem quite so bad, cruelty seems more subdued or maybe just more repressed, and justice and law enforcement seem less capricious.  Humanity may not be getting any better, but it may not be getting any worse either.

In summary, this book tells an interesting tale and seems quite informative about the period. It provides some context in which to view today’s situation and issues and reminded me of how much I tacitly assume situations and relationships to ‘have always been that way’ when they might be fairly new, but predate my awareness of them.  Example: prisons.  I never thought about how long they’ve been around, but prior to the early 19th century, punishments did not usually involve incarceration.  Instead quick and sometimes severe punishments were used; flogging, banishment, etc. Now, we have a huge incarcerated population that continues to grow.

Good book.

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Jul 19 2006

AOL CD’s

Published by under General,retro

Some would say that AOL in its entirety is an example of retrotechnology since it’s built on a dial up subscriber base which is shrinking. That issue aside, I recently listened to an interview of its current head, Jonathan Miller, jin which he mentioned the number of CD’s AOL had sent out as part of its marketing campaign in the 90’s. If you were alive then you remember them! Take a guess at the total number of their CD’s: 660 million! How high a retro pile would that make?

Since they now view themselves as a global company they are or have changed their legal name from America On-Line to “AOL”; no meaning attached to the letters. Another acronym cut loose.

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Jul 01 2006

Love that radiation

Published by under retro

When chatting with a friend in a park something reminded us of the shoe fitting fluoroscope what was hi-tech consumerism when I was a kid in Chicago probably in the early fifties. I don’t really know how they worked, but they displayed a low quality x-ray of feet in new shoes. Supposedly it provided the ‘best’ way to get the right fit on kids who obviously couldn’t be trusted to know what was comfortable. As I recall, the flouroscope was in a tapered box several feet high with a viewing screen on or near the top. So far, I’ve not been diagnosed as having foot cancer so maybe they were a good thing.

Somewhat similar but of more recent vintage is the practice of taking routine chest x-rays. Take a picture and look for the lung cancer you were creating wby taking the picture! Someone eventually decided they were useless or maybe just that there was a newer and better technology.

Note: Just discovered the wikipedia has a good entry on fluoroscopy that mentions the old shoe fitting machines. Fluoroscopy is still used in inproved forms as the word just means “an instrument with a fluorescent screen used for viewing X-ray images without taking and developing X-ray photographs”.

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May 08 2006

Peter Rabbit never told me

Published by under General,retro

Interesting bit of trivia I heard in a podcast yesterday was that Beatrix Potter, the author and illustrator of Peter Rabbit, was the first person to discover that lichen are a symbiotic confluence of an algae and a fungus. She discovered it, drew some illustrations and published, but ‘nobody’ paid attention since she was a woman. Eventually, she did get credit after it was subsequently discovered again by a man. Old news, but new to me.

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May 03 2006

Ham Radio – 2

Published by under retro

A few posts ago when writing about “Q Codes”, I mentioned that I got a ham radio license. I got the license because of the potential usefulness of a ham radio capability in a disaster; most likely an earthquake.

Since I got the license, I’ve spent a few hours trying to figure out what I want to do with the license and it turns out that ham radio is not easy to penetrate. Lots of shortcut jargon to decipher, a wide range of technical information and choices, and now I see that participants in this hobby are in the midst of a verbal ‘civil war’.

Apparently, the licensing rules were changed in the early 90’s in a manner that made it easier to get the initial license; no Morse Code requirement and just pass a simple multiple choice test which is how I got my license. This makes one a “Technician” (or an NCT for ‘non code technician’). That’s what I am. It seems that a lot of the hard core old timers think NCT’s are the scum of the air waves and let them know it. This naturally turns off the new technicians who now have many other ways to communicate over long distances (cell phones, internet chat) and other more interesting technical attractions (internet, programming, video games). Hence they seem to disappear with some regularity. The war is over ‘what to do’ with ham radio; make it accessible? make it broadly interesting, or make it into a true museum of retro-technology?

I still haven’t decided what if anything I’m going to do. Will probably investigate more and then get an entry level 2m transceiver for use in emergencies. See how that goes.

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Apr 26 2006

Fortran

Published by under retro

Speaking of retro and of things human that don’t seem to ever change, I just noticed this item in an email from Apple:

Intel Fortran Compiler for Mac OS X Now Available
Intel is now shipping several new compilers and libraries,
Including the Intel Fortran Compiler for Mac OS X.

Still around and this case probably still useful. Fortrean was the first high level computer language I used and that was 40+ years ago. When I started working it was used for many things besides math. Most notable logistics oriented simulations. Lots of code was written by hand in fortran and the early stuff was then “key punched:” into cards that went into boxes that went to the big machine room.

No more cards but still Fortran

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Apr 25 2006

Radio Q codes

Published by under retro

I’ve recently started to play a bit with amateur radio which is better known as ‘ham’ radio. It is a world of many many codes and acronyms. More, I think, than the computing business since radio’s origin was about a hundred years ago and bandwidth was really low (think hand typed Morris Code). A bunch of the codes that first sounded like acronyms are really three letters long and start with the letter Q; Q-codes. ti turns out that these are the remnants of a code system defined by the British in 1909. The Wikipedia has a good history and explanation of Q codes.

Some of thes codes are still used and some have made it into the slang used by ham aficionados.
QSO: A conversation (e.g. Thanks very much for the QSO).
QSL: “I Acknowledge receipt” has become an elaborate system for confirming communications between two operators with levels of coverage and corresponding awards. e.g. Please QSL via the bureau (i.e. please send me a card confirming this contact).

Human conventions and habits last so long…….

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Apr 11 2006

Paul Temple and the Gilbert Case

Published by under Books,retro

Presented on a podcast from “Soap Detectives”.

A BBC radio drama from the 30’s (I think) in seven 25 minute episodes. I’d listened to a number of other radio detective shows, but this one ‘grabbed’ me more than the others. Very similar to “The Thin Man” series of books and movies. Paul Temple and his wife Steve(I think that’s what he was saying) are wealthy, well connected, gad abouts and amateur detectives. In this story they take on the case of a young man convicted of killing his fiancee. A whole long series of incidents and encounters ensue. The culmination seems to be the classic bring all the suspects together for a dinner party and ‘outing’ of the real villain, but it carries on a bit further. Much drinking, dancing, and other sorts of fun. A glimpse of upper class life in the urban thirties.

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Feb 15 2006

Disc Drives – a short history

Published by under retro

The good lawyer has pointed out an interesting quick look at the history of disc (or is it disk) drives. Neat picture of the first IBM disc drive from 1956, fifty years ago. Amazing change in physical size and information density.

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Dec 16 2005

Personal Computers for 30 Years

Published by under General,retro

Ars Technica has good survey article on the history of the personal computer. It includes an old photo of the original Eniac. Take a look.

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Dec 09 2005

pez player

Published by under retro

In case you need something retro this christmas season, the pez styled mp3 player and data storage device might be just what you need. Not for me, but surely is retro….

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Sep 15 2005

Pneumatic Subway!

Published by under retro

An intriguing write-up on a real project to develop a “pneumatic” subway in New York City in the late 19th Century. Before its time!

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Sep 15 2005

Historical Maps of Eastern U.S.A.

Published by under retro

A collection of over 2000 USGS topographic maps dating from the 1880s to the 1950s. The collection covers all of New England, and parts of Virginia, West Virginia, and Ohio.

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Sep 15 2005

The story of SAGE

Published by under retro

“On Guard! The Story of SAGE” The Internet Archive provides downloadable versions of an IBM film on the “Semi Automatic Ground Environment” which was the first attempt at a computer assisted air defence command.
Coincidentally, the earliest “PC” that I wanted to buy was called a “sage”. That sage company departed the PC wars before they really got started.

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