Good Riddance to Bad Tech


The K5 article Useful Dead Technologies highlighted some older, now gone (or nearly gone) technologies I sorely miss.
“mcgrew,” the Kurobots squealed, “You're a geezer! A crazy old, ranting coot! A Luddite! Aren't there any tech-nologies you're glad are gone?”
Actually, there are. Here are a few of them, and like the useful dead technologies, some of these inventions (like the power pile and gravity furnace) were before my time, and I only knew this technology from being in the possession of an antique something or other like a house, or just reading about them.
 
The Guillotine
I'm sure that there are many of you out there who would like to bring this fine old technology back to life. Bloodier than a firing squad yet more humane than the Arabic methods of decapitation, those of you who are in support of the death penalty will call for its resurrection.
Not me. And if I write an article “Bad/useless live technologies,” it will list all forms of capital punishment technology currently in use.
 
Dot matrix printers
NOISY MACHINES, NOISY NOISY NOISY! They were expensive things that had, like the typewriters before them, a single typeface. Unlike the typewriters before them, this typeface was extremely crude, primitive looking, and ugly. Like a typewriter, it had a ribbon that often got tangled, could not be re-inked, and usually could not be replaced without getting your hands filthy.
You kids who grew up with inkjets and laser printers are lucky.
 
The 8-track tape
This sorry piece of crap is proof positive of American stupidity. The cassette – the (now obsolete) four track, two-spindle, 1/8th inch, 1/78 IPS shirt pocket sized tape cassette was produced before the 8-track. The four track cassette was originally made as a dictation device, but advances in tape manufacture and head design soon gave them a frequency response that came close to human hearing's limit, signal to noise ratio low enough that you had to turn it up very loud to hear the hiss, and inaudible harmonic distortion, which made them ideal for music.
Nevertheless, the 8-track was born anyway. With its transport speed at twice the 4-track cassette's speed, it should have been audibly superior. However, the “powers that be” decided that 8-tracks were going to be for automobiles, which at the time were not as well insulated from outside sounds and wind as today's cars, and with the auto's horrible acoustics, it was okay for a car's music to sound like effluent.
But the deliberately bad sound wasn't bad enough. The eight track tape had a single spindle, a very clever design where the tape fed from the center of the spindle, around a capstan roller inside the housing and back to the outside of the roll of tape. This made for an expensive setup, and one that was prone to wow and flutter, as well as having the tape get “eaten” by the tape player. And unlike a cassette, if your 8-track got ate, you might as well throw it in the trash.
But wait, there's more! This thing was deemed to be for the car, while cassettes were going to be (by about 1970 or so) for the home.
This made no sense whatever, since the “portable” eight track took up as much space as four cassettes, without being able to play any longer than a cassette. In fact, you could buy a longer playing cassette than 8-track.
But the one thing more than anything else that made 8-tracks suck like a Hoover was the fact that it had to change tracks four times during an album. This usually necessitated at least one song and usually more being interrupted in the middle!
Folks finally, after about ten years, started figuring this stuff out for themselves and replaced their 8-track cartridges with 4 track cassettes. Me? I never had an 8-track, although all my friends did. I, the geek, used the far more logical cassettes since about 1966 or 7. Hah! The geek gets the last laugh again!
 
Hollerith Cards
Now, I never had to deal with these monstrosities, except that many bills came on them, and picking classes while at college. But I have read of the horrors meted out to programmers at the time, and am glad I never had to deal with them in a programming environment.
Actually, the punched cards are only bad in retrospect, since the tools we have now are so much handier.
 
The ten million dollar, building sized pocket calculator
...simply because I couldn't have one at the time! I had to use...
 
The Slide Rule
Actually, I loved my slide rule. This was because my teachers were incredibly stupid, and thought “gee, he can use a slide rule, he must be really smart!”
Er, no. I used it to cheat in math class. My slide rule made it unnecessary to learn my multiplication tables. Even today if I want to multiply seven times nine, I'll multiply seven times four, double it, and add seven. Which is why I'm firmly against letting kids use calculators before high school.
And speaking of which, as much as I loved my slide rule, I was more than glad to be rid of it when the far, far superior calculator came down in price where a human could actually afford one.
 
The automobile distributor and points
Unless you are a classic car collector, or a geezer, you have no idea how much of a pain in the butt these things were. About every oil change or two, your car's performance and gas mileage would go down, and you would need a tuneup.
To tune your car, you could simply hire someone. That is, if you were a sissy.
A real man changed his own oil and tuned his own car up. You could tell a real man by the scars and scabs on his knuckles from working on his car.
First you had to change all eight of your spark plugs. What? You only have six? Pussy! Make sure you don't get the wires on wrong, or if your car will start at all, it will lurch and backfire and run like crap.
Then you had to take off the distributor cap, usually held on by two clips that would cut your fingers and were harder than a Rubic's cube solution to get clipped back on.
Under the distributor cap was the contact points. These had to be replaced. Then you had to adjust the gap on the points. Oh shit, I forgot to adjust the gaps on the spark plugs... do that all over again...
Now that the plugs are gapped and the points are replaced and gapped, you put the new distributor cap on... Come on... SHIT... GOD DAMNED PIECE OF SHI... okay, there it goes. Good. Gimme a bandaid, would ya?
Now you have to set the points' dwell. What's “dwell?” Beats the hell out of me, maybe it's the amount of time the points are closed. But you have to set it with a dwell meter or your car will run like it's powered by gerbils and will suck gas like Bush sucks at being President.
Then you have to get out your strobe and set the timing. You loosen the distributor, point your strobe at the mark on the... wait a minute... I can't see the damned mark. Stop the engine, would you?
Damn, it's all rusty and... to hell with it, start it back up and I'll time the God damned thing by ear, piece of shit...
Thank God and modern electronics for electronic ignition!
 
Lye Soap
My grandma made soap out of lye and pig fat. 'Nuff said, I think.
 
Non-powered hand tools Can you even buy them today?
For a few years I owned a house that was built in 1918. It was state of the art when it was built, with gas and electric.
I often thought of the men who built that big old house, and marveled that they had no power tools whatever!
 
Stoves without pilot lights
No, I'm not speaking here of the new stoves that use an electric spark. I'm talking about technology that I'm not old enough to know first hand, but have only read of.
Early stoves had to be lit with a match, and there were no safety devices to shut an unlit gas source off. The knob on the oven was known as “the knob that will make the house explode,” because if you turned on the knob and didn't light it, sooner or later when the house was full of fumes, boom.
I doubt many people miss exploding houses!
 
Vacuum tubes
All right, yes, we still have tubes. Your CRT is a tube, there is one (I think) in your microwave oven, and they're still using them in some guitar amplifiers.
But they used to be in everything electronic. Your TV set, your radio, your record player, your... er, um... Gee. We didn't have a lot of electronic things!
But the tubes sucked. In the first place, their filaments must heat the tube enough that electrons will go flying off of the cathode before the thing will even work. Anything electronic took as long to warm up as your computer monitor.
Um, computer... damn, it takes a long time for my new P4 to boot, do these things have tubes or something?
In the second place, they lasted about as long as a light bulb; a year or two. Fortunately they were easy to diagnose. Tube's not lit? There's your problem! ...and replace. Un-fortunately they were expensive, two to five bucks each when a McDonald's hamburger was fifteen cents and a candy bar or a bottle of soda was a nickle.
 
The Hydrogen Bomb
Oh wait, that one's still around. Damn!
Mon Mar 21, 2005
 
It's pretty obvious why the eight track was introduced despite its suckiness: corporate profits. They expected you to buy both the eight track and cassette of the same album. However, most people only bought one copy of the album, the LP version, and recorded it on a blank eight track.
Corporations are usually stupid and disgusting like that.
Nov 16, 2014

 

 


Useful Dead Technologies
Index
Growing Up With Computers

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