October 23, 2014

Back to the future?

Filed under: Modern artifacts — acagle @ 8:46 am

Something came up twice in recent days and I’m wondering if it hasn’t occurred to anyone else. Let’s start with this, the humble wristwatch:

Many of you may be somewhat unaware of these? I’ve worn one almost my entire life, at least since I was in my teens at least.

Lately, however, or at least for a few months in the last year or so, I kind of quit wearing one. Why? Because I always had either my computer or cell phone to look at for the time. I found myself putting my watch on every morning and then taking it off in the evening and realizing that I hadn’t looked at it even once all day. So I shelved it (them, actually, I have three) and did without. Eh. Sometimes I’d catch myself looking at my wrist, maybe when I was out on the street or something and my phone was buried in a pocket somewhere but I mostly got along without it.

One advantage in the summer was that by the end of August I didn’t have brown arms with a little white band where the watch was.

But I started wearing it again recently. Dunno know why, it just seemed kind of like a nice retro kinda thing to do. Most days I still don’t look at it, but it’s kind of nice to know it’s there.

But the other day I was in a watch store getting a new battery for the new Mickey Mouse watch I gave the ArchaeoWife for her birthday, and was looking over a display of these:

Again, for some young’uns, that’s a pocket watch. I’ve always kind of liked pocket watches, or at least I always liked the idea of pulling it out of one’s vest pocket to check the time. I was kind of half debating maybe getting one — I’ve done the same thing at estate sales — but then decided (again) that it would probably go into my pocket in the morning, rarely come out for the same reason as the wristwatch, and probably end up broken or something.

Of course, then I realized: I keep my phone in my pocket and pull it out to check the time. Hence, we’ve kind of come full circle with the new pocket watch: the mobile phone.

And maybe in a few years the cell phone will become the cell watch and we’ll be back there again, too.

UPDATE: Today, obviously, I didn’t wear my watch and I’ve looked at my bare wrist about half a dozen times. . . .

July 1, 2014

Now and then.

Filed under: Modern artifacts — acagle @ 6:52 pm

I just purchased a new computer. That might not seem like a big deal and why are you posting about it, but it really is in a way (and not just because of the wad of dough I just laid out). This is the first one I’ve bought in like 10 years for one. For another, it’s almost 30 years since I bought my first one. So I thought I’d do a little comparison.

In raw dollar amounts, I spent about the same: around $1500. That seems to be the same amount I spend every time, btw. There was an old saying in computer circles, the computer you really want always costs $3000; the one you actually buy always costs $1500. So in some way I spent the same amount of money in 1987 and 2014. But:

Adjusting for inflation, the $1500 I spent today is, in 1987 dollars, only $716.
Put another way, that $1500 I spent in 1987 now has the same buying power as $3141 in 2014 dollars. So I guess I got the computer I really wanted!

The other huge difference is that this new one is an Apple, a CrapMacintosh Macbook Air (hereafter, AirBook).
Desert Fox

The first one was a Leading Edge PC-XT, ca. 1987.
Desert Fox

At the time I thought the Macs available then were expensive toys, with a little toy screen and a little toy keyboard and a cutesy little ‘desktop’ for people too dim to figure out a command line interface. Actually, I still think that (about the originals), so flame away if you must.

Other differences:
PC-XT: 12-inch phosphor green monochrome CRT screen with 80 columns by 25 lines resolution.
They were also available in phosphor orange/amber, but I liked the green better. Almost as good as the phosphor white on mainframe/mini terminals.
Airbook: 13″ color LED screen with 1440 by 900 pixel resolution.

PC-XT: 8088 at 4.77-7.16 Mhz. It had 29,000 transistors and operated at 0.33-1 million instructions per second.
Airbook: 1.4 gigahertz Dual-Core Intel Core i5 etc. That means 1400 million transistors and operates at around 6.6 billion instructions per second.

PC-XT: 640kb = 655,360 bytes = 655 thousand (.00065 billion) bytes
Airbook: 8 gigabytes = 8,589,934,592 bytes = 8.5 billion bytes or 13,107 times the RAM of the XT

Hard Drive:
PC-XT: 20 megabytes = 20,971,520 bytes = 0.021 billion bytes
Airbook: 512 gigabytes flash memory = 549,755,813,888 bytes = 550 billion bytes or 26,214 times the drive space of the XT

PC-XT: 102-key clicky keyboard.
Airbook: Built-in. Have to say, I liked the Leading Edge’s keyboard. Wow.

PC-XT: Beeped.
Airbook: Dual stereo speakers and microphones. And a headphone port. And a camera.

PC-XT: Hard to say. CPU housing was probably 14×5x18 inches or so and weighed maybe 7 pounds. CRT was probably another 10 pounds and the keyboard was bigger than the Airbook itself and probably weighed as much.
Height: 0.11-0.68 inch
Width: 12.8 inches
Depth: 8.94 inches
Weight: 2.96 pounds

PC-XT: WordPerfect 5.1 (bootleg), Lotus 1-2-3 (bootleg), SPSS for DOS (bootleg; can you see a pattern here?), some sort of menu system (don’t remember the name), and everyone’s favorite Leather Goddesses of Phobos (it is both naughtier and tamer than you probably imagine).
Desert Fox
Airbook: What don’t I have on here? A huge pig of a Word for Mac has replaced the fast and efficient WP 5.1, a huge pig of an SPSS for Mac has replaced a slightly less huge pig of an SPSS for DOS, and I don’t have Leather Goddesses.

PC-XT: Could be connected to a 300-baud audio modem for what that was worth.
Airbook: 802.11ac Wi-Fi networking;4 IEEE 802.11a/b/g/n compatible, Bluetooth 4.0 wireless

Admittedly, the Leading Edge looks pretty pathetic. Relatively speaking, yes it was. OTOH, that may be the single most productive computer I’ve ever owned, except perhaps for the last Airbook. I did numerous papers on it, lecture notes, all of the material for my comprehensive exams, and my master’s thesis. The latter included running statistics in SPSS that often took 45 minutes to run a single cluster analysis on a fairly small data set. There was something almost inherently productive about a monochrome screen; no Internet to go twaddle on to waste time, no videos, no email (well there was, with the modem attached), no texting, no video, no sound except that provided by an external system, etc. Despite all of the layout capabilities of modern “word processors”, the almost blank screen of WordPerfect kind of lent itself to concentrating on the written word. Yes, including graphics was a PITA — you had to leave appropriate space, print it out, physically tape the graphic on the paper, and then photocopy it — but for the most part you had primarily text to get your meaning across and you used that to maximum extent simply because the graphics took so much time and effort — you had to make those count.

Every now and then I think maybe I should go out and buy an old XT and use it for writing, but that never really comes of anything. Cutting and pasting text is fairly difficult, as is any navigation, and then you still have to export it somewhere so someone else can actually read it. Supposedly you can still run it on both Windows and Macs but I’ll pass. As much as I hate Word — both then and now — it’s about the only game in town, much to my dismay. That is, if you want to be able to share documents with anyone.

Then again, I often wonder how much we’ve progressed. Last week I spent two hours fighting with a printer just to print a couple of pages. Hellooooo!? Back in the ’80s I was fighting with printers to print out correctly and here it is 2014 and I’m still fighting with printers to print out correctly. Seems like it still takes the same amount of time for an application to load as well. Yeah, they’re far more capable, but they still foul up and bomb a lot. No rose-colored glasses here, but I’m not a Luddite either: I’ll take the modern computer with its connectivity, speed, memory, etc. Do I want to march down to the library every time I need a journal article, only to find it checked out? No. Or spend half an hour copying a graphic, cutting it out to size, pasting it onto a document, and photocopying it again several times until no lines appear? No.

But sometimes I think a bit wistfully about maybe sitting down at a computer for a while just to work on something and then go seek entertainment elsewhere. And that pale green phosphor sure was easy on the eyes. . . . .

May 1, 2014

A bit of cultural trivia

Filed under: Modern artifacts, Pop culture — acagle @ 8:17 pm

So, Alan Parsons Project, Ammonia Avenue from way back in the 1980s. There’s the line that goes “And those who came at first to scoff, remained behind to pray”. I always liked that line and was totally impressed that they’d come up with that.

And then I’m reading a book of English poetry (shut up) and come across “The Deserted Village” by Oliver Goldsmith (1770) where there’s this:

“And fools, who came to scoff, remained to pray.”

So, harumph.

April 28, 2014

Things that just didn’t make it

Filed under: Modern artifacts — acagle @ 1:22 pm

The Monowheel

The taxonomy and lineage of the monowheel and its cousins is tough to pin down. Various photos of the device appear with names of inventors that don’t necessarily correspond to who’s pictured riding the thing. Ads for the devices are also floating around, suggesting that some in the general public actually—gulp—bought and rode these one-wheel widowmakers. The apex of monowheel fascination appears to be embodied in the Motoruota, built by Messrs Cislaghi and Goventosa of Italy. Their designs apparently caught on in Europe, especially in Italy and France through the late ’20s and ’30s, but versions like the Nilson were made in the US. (For a more complete list of models and makers, visit Douglas Self’s online museum dedicated to the monowheel.)

Last time I saw anything of these was in the last Men in Black movie. They seem cool, but I guess they’re just plain dangerous and less easily maneuvered than a 2-wheeled motorcycle. So, natural selection seems to have made them a rarity.

But check the photo of the guy riding it. Seems a little Indiana Jonesish.. . . .

April 26, 2014

Atari update

Filed under: Modern artifacts — acagle @ 4:12 pm

Looks like they were successful.

Although the one cartridge looks pretty unplayable to me.

UPDATE: MOre detail from ARS Technica here and here.

April 24, 2014

Errr. . .what?

Filed under: Modern artifacts — acagle @ 7:33 pm

UND archaeologist seeks Atari legend in New Mexico

Somewhere in a New Mexico landfill is a legendary cache of Atari artifacts from the early days of American video games, and UND archaeologist Bill Caraher is headed there next week to help in the excavation.

It’s a bit of a change of pace for the professor, whose specialty is fifth-to-10th-century Christian architecture in the Mediterranean region.

I’m not entirely sure this is very interesting or cool, but I had to link. I never much played Atari, I was a bar gamer for the most part.

LOIRP. Say it fast.

Filed under: Modern artifacts — acagle @ 4:49 pm

The Hackers Who Recovered NASA’s Lost Lunar Photos

When they learned through a Usenet group that former NASA employee Nancy Evans might have both the tapes and the super-rare Ampex FR-900 drives needed to read them, they jumped into action. They drove to Los Angeles, where the refrigerator-sized drives were being stored in a backyard shed surrounded by chickens. At the same time, they retrieved the tapes from a storage unit in nearby Moorpark, and things gradually began to take shape. Funding the project out of pocket at first, they were consumed with figuring out how to release the images trapped in the tapes.

. . .

After kluging through countless engineering problems (try finding a chemical substitute for whale oil to lubricate tape heads), the LOIRP team was able to single out and reproduce the famous earthrise image. This proof of concept brought the first NASA funding in 2008, and the team recently completed processing the entire tape collection.

A brilliant piece of engineering. Fortunately they were able to find the appropriate parts before they all died and the parts became unavailable and the tapes didn’t degrade too far.

April 1, 2014

Image problem solved

Filed under: Modern artifacts — acagle @ 7:46 pm

I found out that Dreamhost went and changed my ftp server name without, apparently, telling me. Hence, in honor of the new server I shall now post a couple of photos for your consideration:

Desert Fox

Desert Fox

Ignore the actual name of the file, I just called it that because I didn’t know what it was (at first. probably).

Any idears?

March 5, 2014

Material Culture . . . new functions for old artifacts

Filed under: Modern artifacts, Uncategorized — Tags: , — ArchaeoFriend @ 9:51 am

The musical banging and clanging of the radiator in my office once again reminds me of the beautiful musical tones from ordinary everyday objects. Take this recent composition, featuring the dulcet tones of the Epson LQ 850:
Dot matrix printer plays Eye of the Tiger

Could material culture get any better than this? It almost brings a tear to my eye, thinking about dot matrix printers. (Almost). Each Tuesday and Thursday, by the way, I pass by an Epson dot matrix printer, covered in dust and dead flies, in the main hall of the Physics department (where I teach Intro Archaeology). The poor thing looks so sad. And so old. But it reminds me of the re-purposing of objects that we see in archaeology, and of curation behaviors. I think I will even use it as an example of technology, style, and function for class on Thursday. This poor printer also reminds me of my trip last spring to the Computer History Museum in Mountain View CA. More on that trip, later.

January 22, 2014

“Betamax is the ‘Magna Carta’ of the innovation world.”

Filed under: Modern artifacts — acagle @ 2:45 pm

Rewinding to Betamax: The path to consumers’ “right to record”

From Megaupload to 3D printing, consumer-accessible tools for electronic copying remain at the center of the biggest legal fights in technology—and the Sony Betamax decision remains a key touchstone. Later this year, the Supreme Court will hear a case regarding Aereo, a company that has captured TV broadcasts and repackaged them for the Internet. Even though few consumers today rely on over-the-air broadcasts, whether or not there’s a fair use right to record them in this way is up in the air yet again.

For those of you too young to remember:
Desert Fox

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