Saturday, January 29, 2011

Amazing when you think about it

It's Saturday; and that means the Bob W3BBO and I had our weekly "BS Session" via Echolink.  This is how we've kept in touch since Bob moved from New Jersey back to his home of Erie, PA.  Today's conversation waxed a bit nostalgic about the changes we've seen in technology in just our lifetimes.

Take me, for instance.  My earliest memories go back to when I was around three years old, which would be 1960 or so.  I remember President Kennedy talking about missiles in Cuba.  That was on an old RCA black and white TV.  The TV screen itself was small - the same size or perhaps even smaller than the screen of the netbook that I am using to type this! The TV cabinet was huge!  It was considered a piece of furniture.  When the TV broke, the TV Repairman would come to your house with a traveling case of tubes; and he would replace as many as necessary until the TV worked again.  TV programming ended around midnight with a picture of the American Flag flapping in the breeze while the National Anthem played.  After  that, all that you could see on the TV screen was a test pattern until programming resumed the next morning with the "Agricultural Report".  Yep, back then most of New Jersey and Long Island were still rural, agrarian environments.   When you turned the TV off the picture would dissolve down to a little white dot that glowed for a while, until it too, disappeared.

As a kid, I also remember the fuss when your parents would buy you a new transistor radio, one that could fit in your pocket, used batteries, had no tubes and didn't have to be plugged into a wall socket.  Of course, the more transistors the better and a lot of the radios listed on the case how many transistors, diodes, etc, were inside.  "Hey Jimmy, that puny radio you have has only 5 transistors - mine has 7! Nyah!" We were so hi-tec!

In 1967 we got our first color TV set.  May aunt and uncle who lived next door to us had one for years, but I'll never forget the thrill.  Hey, who would have thought that the Robot on "Lost in Space" had red claws!  Even in those days, TVs were still considered to be furniture and the TV repairman came to your house to fix them.  There were, however, a new breed of TVs - portables, that were coming of age.  You could plug one of these just about anywhere as they had their own rabbit ear antennas attached and they also had a handle that you could use to carry them around.

Telephones were big, bulky things with a rotary dial that hung on the wall.  Desk phones were popular too, and in the mid to late 60s we no longer had "party lines".  There was a time that you could pick up your telephone's receiver only to hear another conversation taking place on the line.  You had to wait until the conversation finished before you could "dial" someone up.

When my dad did our income taxes, he brought home the big adding machine from the store.  It was heavy, noisy Victor brand machine that rang a bell when it delivered a total.  I still remember my dad using it on our kitchen table and me being able to hear the machine doing its adding thing all the way up in my bedroom on the second floor.

I bought my first calculator when I was a sophomore in High School back in 1973.  I bought it at JC Penney and I remember distinctly that it cost $50.  For all that money you got a device that could add, subtract, divide and multiply and it had a red LED display that was barely visible in the bright light. And that was it.  If you wanted more functions you had to buy one of those fancy Texas Instruments scientific calculators that cost MUCHO bucks.  I also remember that calculators were verboten in chemistry class.  Slide rules ruled the day!

In math class we were hooked up to a mainframe computer at Rutgers University.  We had an old RTTY type teletype terminal that we used to write and test simple BASIC programs.  I remember having to insert the telephone handset onto an old style acoustic modem in order for us to be hooked up to the mainframe.  The computer game of rage was "Hunt the Wumpus".  I also remember teachers telling us that computer programming was the new wave field of the future.  If only I had listened!

Today we have telephones that fit in our pockets, electronic devices like TVs that have become so inexpensive to manufacture that we throw them away when they break; and we buy new ones.  We have "personal" computers that make the computer in the Lunar Module that landed the men on the moon look like an abacus in comparison!  We've come so far so fast.  It makes you wonder what things will be like in the next 50 years and if the vaunted technology that we have today will look like "sticks and stones" in comparison.

72 de Larry W2LJ
QRP - When you care to send the very least!


  1. Larry I remember when I was a kid and you could bring your TV or radio tubes to the drug store to test them in a machine that was there. We too had party lines but the phone had unique rings for each home but you would still pickup on conversations in progress.

  2. Good Stuff!
    I remember just 1 TV in the house, color was big! The TV repair man came when I was home sick from school. Use to always listen to my transistor radio all the time.
    Nice Read - Jim W2KLM

  3. I remember seeing tube testers at the local 7-11 store in the 1960's. Also, my first calculator was a "four banger" too, but it was a fluorescent blue display and cost well over $100 in 1976. I didn't know they had LED ones in '73 for half that price.
    Later, in 1977, I got a Texas Instruments TI-58, programmable. I still have it and the manuals. It was good for cheating in Physics class! I got on the "Math Team" specializing in calculators and went to a meet. Charged that TI-58 up all night and when I turned it on at the meet, the battery didn't charge, it was totally flat. Needless to say, my classmates and competitors laughed under their breath at my frustration. I came in last, of course.
    We ended up getting that unit replaced several times due to charging issues.
    73 de N5PRE,
    Kevin Trotman