Archive for October, 2011

Crowded by obsolescence

October 5, 2011 1 comment

From the basement to the bedrooms, a house full of obsolete things.

A Bose clock radio bought on a special discount a decade or more ago at the now-defunct Comdex trade show. (It used to draw 100,000 people.) The radio has a built-in CD player. But it cannot read the MP3 format. Functional still for other CDs, but obsolete. On the wall opposite the bed, a 19″ tube TV with a semi-zapped-out sound circuit. Mounted on a state-of-the-art 1990 bracket that now looks like something in an old hospital room. Just haven’t gotten around to replacing with a flatscreen.

First floor, let’s start with the stereo. In 1978 I purchased a sweet Harmon Karden receiver, 40 watts RMS per channel, pure analog. Also a belt-driven turntable with a tone arm that moves in a straight line, to match the way vinyl records are cut. Cat’s meow. All the better to play the latest direct-to-disk recordings of the pre-CD, apex years of LPs. Plus two AR speakers in hand-rubbed walnut cabinets. When my son was small he put a tiny fistule through one of the woofers and I could still find a replacement. Now one of the midrange drivers has rotted away, and I’m wondering if the parts dealer still exists. My wife says, can’t we just toss out all of this crap?

In the closet: A collection of old film cameras. The mechanical shutters have grown sluggish as the grease congeals with age. Foam panels are drying to dust. It’s all basically worthless. I looked into a digital back for the 4 x 5 view camera. They make ’em, but you could by a new Beetle for about the same money.

In the basement, wet-photography gear — tanks, trays, washing devices, a motorized enlarger disassembled for 20 years. I was going to get around to building a new darkroom when we moved here, but kids, career…So all sits moldering, still in the United Van Lines boxes. In the meantime, wet photography went the way of oil painting and engraving.

I even have three manual typewriters gathering cobwebs. I may go back to writing letters on them. Ding—zzzzzzzip! On my desk, next to the Lava Lamp, sits my Western Electric black rotary phone.

The thing about old stuff is that, when it was current, it gave a generation, sometimes two or three, of service. The Nikon F first came out around 1959 and stayed in production until the 1970s, when the F2 came out. But mechanical things are different from electronic ones, where the technology is still doubling capacity every 18 months. I used the Nikon F for 20 years after the F2 came out. But I’m on my third Mac computer in five years.

People have gotten so used to awesomely faster and better every year, that Apple’s stock fell because it called the new iPhone the 4S, instead of giving the “5” designation. It’s 33 percent faster at this, 50 percent better at that, processes the other at twice the speed, and has umpteen new features. At which all of the analysts yawned.

Electronics also throws off junk. I’ve got baskets of leftover detritus from years gone by. A zombie’s spaghetti dinner of old USB cables, telephone cords, power supplies with every odd voltage and terminator, stands from long-ago monitors, serial and parallel cables, backup CDs from trashed computers, old hard drives. All mixed in with assorted knobs, button batteries, Velcro tidbits, stick-on rubber feet, assorted strain reliefs, cable ties, fasteners, clips, connectors, allen wrenches, 9V battery sockets, and a few guitar picks that got in there somehow. But it’s easy to throw out old electronics. Who gets sentimental about a Dell computer?

I’m not sure why I can’t get myself to sell or give away my mechanical and analog items. Sometimes I think I’ll just put it all in a big box and drop it off somewhere. I know I won’t. Probably because, like the played-to-death Meet The Beatles album in the dog-eared cover, their dust-gathering presence maintain a physical connection to when I was young. Plus, the stuff technically still works. The Nikon F and Mamiya C330 were built like brick shithouses. And I really miss the grip and mechanical interaction of typewriters and spring-powered cameras.

I can do the basics in Photoshop, but it’s doesn’t match the dark mustard-colored seclusion of a darkroom and the smell of hypo. Getting your hands in the chemicals and the washing trays. The magic of seeing a white sheet morph into a brilliant print. As long as the materials are still available, I still harbor the hope I’ll build that darkroom. And man, it will have the best sound system ever.

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