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Wednesday, 21 February 2018


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Here's a great book https://www.amazon.com/Houghton-Library-1942-1967-Manuscripts-Publications/dp/0674408500 and at bargain prices, for anyone who loves books. With plates by, and printed at, Meriden Gravure.

IMHO, CD players now qualify as dinosaur technology; I lament the dissolution of the Red Book Standard!

One of my favorite audio toys is my beloved Sony D-25S, a legend in its own right, paired with Grado SR225s (no amp needed).

I have a tendency to sit on both sides of the aisle. Still use my Rega P3, but have developed a strong fondness for Tidal streaming music. I use a Sonic Frontiers SF40 EL34 tube amp in my office with a SS pre and in my main listening space I prefer my older McCormack 100 WPC SS amp with a tube pre.

I'm with you on roadsters, but having only one car I have Bimmer wagon, which gives me driving pleasure and carry it all convenience. I understand people wanting SUVs because they can sit higher and see out over the road, missing the point that it's because everyone has SUVs.

I do love books, but with my eyesight,iPad and Kindle have been a real treat. I miss bookmarking real books though and paging through them.

I have always been a color photographer, so I haven't really been moved by B&W, so I guess I am a Neanderthal in that regard.

In my youth, a slide rule was an incredible tool and I still have mine. Today, I consider it astounding that I once could actually discern those tiny individual lines!

Mike, WTF - no manuals in your roadsters?!?!?!
If you’re ever in New Orleans, stop into the James Michalopoulis gallery. I visit NOLA once a year and quitely revel in the oil paint smell in his gallery. I also like his work. Jim

With mechanical things you're in control. With most modern devices, the software is in control. All you can do is ask nicely for it to work. Sometimes it does, sometimes it doesn't.

We're close to the same age so I feel like your list is calling out for simple responses sort-of like a poll:
Yes. Sort-of. No. Yes. It's complicated. YES! NO! Not really. Yes.

But it's just too tempting to delve into some of those things, so:

Vinyl: I still have my old records and turntable and so my 20-something daughter thinks I like vinyl so she buys me *new* vinyl for birthday gifts. And I haven't bothered to dissuade her yet ;-)

Roadsters: Oh, yeah, I'd love an old E-Jag but for me (and my budget) the elemental qualities of roadsters is also found in motorcycles and certain classic bicycles so I can be happy with that.

Tubes: No. Except my Bass-guitar amp has tubes but that's different.

Oil Paintings: a very close friend of my wife's is a painter and our house is full of oil paintings. I love them. I know I'm exceptionally lucky about that.

Books: I'm a librarian. I've spent most of my career finding and using alternatives to books. But my house is full of books. Did I say "It's complicated"? Yes, it is.

B&W film: Oh Yeah, Baby! I started shooting and developing film again about a year ago. It's tons of fun. It doesn't replace digital but it's an excellent change of pace. I could go on.

Horses: For some reason, I've always found them mildly threatening. But that's (obviously) just me.

Film Noir: I totally understand and respect classic genres of film but I've never really been able to learn and understand them. Maybe I just can't sit still long enough.

Prints: I do love prints. And for a couple of years I've been telling myself that I need to buy a new printer and get back to this. But I never have the time. Maybe I have to wait until I retire.

Now, I realize that some of my responses may almost have a defensive tone to them and I'm sure that's not what you intended but I think that's just because we're of the same generation (as are most of your readers, I'm sure!), and your post is such a thoughtful list of things that most of us would have come across during our time. It's almost like we're a bunch of dudes in the pub going, "you remember [thing x]? That was cool", and the other guy says "oh yeah, but I was never really into that, I alway's liked [thing y], in fact I still have one in the basement". To which we would all grin and say, "really!? You should get it out sometime!".

Have a good day, Mike. Make sure you listen to some vinyl today.

I just bought a 1980s typewriter from its original owner. Mint, rarely out of its case. I've been typing like a madman the past few weeks, coaxing the old muscle memory back into use. And discovering a fun little world of typewriter fanatics out in the blogosphere. One guy has 1000 of them, meaning he ended up with no choice but to open a museum. Typewriters force the mind to write differently than word processors. It's all forward motion, mistakes in your wake, so it's fantastic for journaling or any form of free-flowing brainstorming or first draft expediency. It also recalls to mind my 8th grade typing class, where I was the only boy, surrounded by all the girls working on their future secretarial skills. Heaven. Little did we know then that in the future we'd all need keyboarding skills.

There are things we like, things we like having and things we like using. I had a Rolleiflex TLR for 15 years and in that time I shot one (ONE!) roll of black and white film with it. It was fun.
I finally gave it away. It had gone from a thing I liked using to a thing I liked having to a thing I liked. Hopefully the new owner likes using it.

I have tons of old technology. As Anthony notes above, the CPU inside every high tech device is firmly in the driver's seat while you're just a passenger making requests about where you would like to go. With the older machinery, you've got the wheel, for better or worse.

Plus, you can generally figure out how it all works if you really need to.

I don’t want to *use* most of these things, but I have many classic cameras in my living room, I paint on canvas, I have books handmade on handmade paper, I have a lovely old Remington 7 (over a century old, thus a genuine antique).

I love the efficiency of digital, but yes, there’s definitely a charm lost in mechanics.

hydraulic steering,
Eww, that's too newfangled for me. Dual circuit hydraulic brakes, yes hydraulic steering no.

Mike what you need is a Ford 9N or the later 8N tractor, slightly more complicated than a hammer, you can mow your lawn, plough snow, run generators off of it, or whatever rationalization seems plausible at the time. It's the Leica IIIc of tractors.

Thanks for the Calvin and Hobbes link. I've been reading them on paper!

I second the CD player comment and would add that I'm enthusiastic about most things handmade by a craftsman.

A propos of U.K. English a joke for you:

A crowded courtroom and a slightly deaf judge who asks the plaintiff:
-Do you have anything to say for yourself young man?
To which he replies:
-Bugger all.
The old beak turns to the solicitor and queries:
-What did he say?
-Bugger all, M’lud.
-Nonsense, I’m sure he said something, his lips were moving.

The annual Labor day weekend exhibition of steam engines and steam powered heavy equipment in Milton Ontario Canada is an amazing event. If you are within driving distance, make a plan to go. Event information is here.

"kludge" - engineer slang for an ungodly mess that's been made to work.

"A vinyl record on a turntable is a delightful confabulated steampunk Rube Goldberg contraption compared to a simple, efficient high-res digital file run through a wee DAC"

With a background in electronics, I can say that the seemingly simple digital technology is much more a kludge then records and turntable ever were.

Paintings were never mainstream or, if you wish, a consumer thing. Photographic prints still are, but are losing their positions.

For me, oil paintings are special compared to other visual art: 1. You can SMELL them! Laugh at me, but apart from looking and feeling with your eyes, your nose tells you, hey, it's a real thing. And 2. It takes more time and effort to make one (many layers with time to dry, unless it's alla prima). So again, a real thing.

With these machines our memories live. Ramblin Jack Elliot turning under an open window, on a wooden plank on cinder blocks, and the curtains moving just a little as the spring breeze meanders in. The year, the apartment, the morning, the girl. Did really I live that life? I'm 67, might as well be 167. Could anyone know that complete of a moment now? How I hope so....

@Gordon Buck: one thing slide rules do/did was to force you to keep track of the magnitude of the numbers you were using and the magnitude of the result. 20,000 is different than 20 or 200,000,000.

A book a few years ago ("Innumeracy"?) reported a study in which people who self-described as "good at math" were asked the population of the U.S. Answers ranged from 20,000 to 200,000,000,000. What was interesting was that most answers started with a 2 (population at the time was 200-something million).

So, many people were retaining something of the correct answer - the first digit. But they lost or did not notice or understand the much more important aspect: magnitude. All because they never had to learn to use a slide rule!

With these machines our memories live. Ramblin Jack Elliot turning under an open window, on a wooden plank on cinder blocks, the curtains moving just a little as the spring breeze eases in. The morning, the year, the apartment, the girl. Did I really live that life? I'm 67, I might as well be 167. Does anyone experience a moment that completely any more? How I hope so...

"I'm charmed by the culture of mechanical solutions to various cultural problems."

When I read this, considering current news, I was thinking, "Ah, Mike is going to discuss the relative merits of the gallows versus the guillotine."

Oh, oh, Mike, I must be a dinosaur, too. But I'm not quite extinct, despite my wife's and daughter's claims. I use a car with straight six, hydraulic steering, and manual transmission (you know, that complicated technology with a third pedal on the floor that so many of the "enthusiasts" today have absolutely no idea how to operate). And I listen to vinyl music via a Scott tube amplifier, a gift from a dear friend. And I regularly use black and white film in a dinosaur Leica or Rolleiflex (another skill that totally baffles most "photographers" today, where one uses an obsolete light meter to measure light, and horrors or horrors, must focus by eye). And finally, I sometimes write with a fountain pen, but most contemporary paper is so crappy, the ink wicks along the fibers and makes a fuzzy mess.

I think you forgot stick shifts in those cars.@

Let's see...

Fountain pens.

Remington Model Seven compact typewriter.

A bunch of Telecasters and tube amps.

A snow shovel.(The shovel is madness at my age and yet...she persisted.)

And of course, my M2 and M4-P Leicas.

I think I may have even passed the line from iconoclastic to crotchety.

Oh, and even though Enzo is a turbo four hot hatch, he' still got three pedals and a short shifter!

Here he is right before I put in the short shifter and a carbon aluminum shift stick:

Inside Enzo, October 24, 2015

Ah yes- Fountain pens! Writing becomes a pleasure.Ballpoint drags and nibs glide.Script can be modulated from fine to broad with writing angle and pressure.
A Mont Blanc is not needed - I have a Chinese-made Jinghao which cost as much as coffee and a Danish.

Balderdash, a good antiquarian word 8-)

Unlike Mike, I've used a lot of dinosaur gear. Music on wax cylinders (no amp needed). Holmes stereoscope viewers, I've used tube amps and radio station turntables. Ribbon mics and tube mics. Analog 24 track tape recorders (96 inches-per-second tape speed). RCA and Ikegami tube video cameras.

I've suffered from Tinnitus for about sixty years, so streaming music is good enough—and requires no expensive gear.

I'm a minalmilst who prefers small and light digital over analog, both at home and at work. When I die, my goal is to have all my possessions fit into a cigar-box., plus a small duffel of clothing.

AHH, give me a good map....GPS, Don't need no stinkin' GPS

I will raise a cheer for the outhouse. A great saver of clean, fresh water, but a rather drafty experience. I remember them from early childhood, not fondly but well.
Tube amps double as room heaters providing welcome warmth in the cool of winter. Not so much fun in the summer. The warmth of the sound is matched by the cityscape glow of the tubes.
I have always had the best driving experience in small cars. A Sunbeam Alpine (50 years ago. Long gone.) for me and a Spitfire for my friend's older brother which I got to drive a couple of times. Very go-cartish. You don't have to be going at supersonic speeds to have a lot of fun when you sit inches from the ground. SUV? blah!
Does anyone else remember the tube radios in cars? I have a clear memory of being able to see the tubes glow, not sure how this was possible (I was very young. I might have been upside down in the seat looking under the dash. No seatbelts).
Off, off-topic, how about foot starter pedals where your leg was the bendix. You jammed the starter into the flywheel.
Feeling kinda old now.

Ditto on Vinyl. Love it.

My first car was a 1960 TR3a. Bought it when I came back from overseas. Drove the car from Fort Bliss to Homestead Air Force Base when I was 20. Got lost in New Orleans and a cabbie spotted my Army hat behind the seat and asked if I was lost. He said "follow me soldier boy" and guided me out of town then gave me a wave and drove off. I traded the Triumph for a motorcycle which was promptly stolen. Gods punishment for me being a dope I suspect.

On Okinawa my first piece of serious audio kit was a Sansui 1000a which was a tube receiver. Before coming home I traded it for a smaller, solid state AU555 which still powers my home audio set up and lashes up to the family turntable very well. It has both MM and MC inputs which still make me smile when I see them.

Early in our marriage Mrs Plews worked for a rare book dealer in Omaha. He distributed the work of Harry Duncan. Harry was a typographer who came to Omaha after printing books of poetry in Cummington, Vermont and Grinnel, Iowa.

Harry printed hand set, hand printed books in editions of 175 to 250 each. Harry and the book store are long gone but we have a shelf full of his work and it's a treasure. Harry's edition of Charles Martin's translation of Catullus is a masterpiece on all counts.

I share your love of B&W film, still have a darkroom but alas have not used it in over a year. Just can't find the time.

Nothing to add on the subject of horses.

Film Noir is the best thing about TCM. Even bad Film Noir is fun.

Until you can hold it in your hand it's an image not a photograph.

I have been a sucker for the easy and the light weight in photography.
So it is digital not film for me. But the cameras have to cameras ... so Olympus Em5 / Fuji XT1/X100f ...all bring some of the joy of the old dsys.

On the other hand ...

Books not kindle
Proper tea ...no tea bags with their unecessary plastic.
Coffee beans.
Family evenings with cards and board games ...Mah Jongg that glorified Rummy being the favourite.
Open coal fires ( I know, I know ...dodgy!)

But my 19 and 23 year old .....they give rise to hope.

Both use 1950s type writers to write letters!
Both use Rega 3 turntables for their LPs.
Both use OLYMPUS Trips
Both read far far more voraciously than I.

Room for the old AND the new!

Jethro Tull's song Heavy Horses is an ode to the working horse. Four lines from the lyrics;

And one day when the oil barons have all dripped dry
And the nights are seen to draw colder
They'll beg for your strength, your gentle power
Your noble grace and your bearing

I'm right there with ya on every single one of those. (Except the horses.)
And a few months ago you wrote about shooting black & white with Plus-X, (or Verichrome) yellow filter, D-76 1:1, and Portriga, exactly my good light process through the 70's and 80's. (Sometimes Plus-X at EI 64)
(cue Twilight Zone music.)

You've got to love the "Eighth Wonder Of The World" (Thomas Edison): the Linotype machine. https://vimeo.com/15032988

A few years ago, I met some engineering students who were attending the University of California at Davis. I received puzzled looks when I mentioned using a slide rule when I was a science student. I went online to show them photographs of various straight and round slide rules. They were amazed that these had been used in the past. I probably could have elicited a similar reaction if I had brought up the abacus.

Nothing wrong to admire/collect/use mature items which have achieved a certain level of excellence. One does not need, necessarily, to embrace something more recent just because they exist.

"Our head always looks for novelty, our heart always the same." (Anselm Grün, benedictine monk, Münsterschwarzach abbey)

Mike, one regret I have about leaving the Washington DC area, and my job at the Phillips Collection, is that I am no longer within walking distance of two great bookstores; Second Story (used) and Kramerbooks (new). In Rochester, look up Greenwood Books on East Ave. The owner there, Franlee Frank, is a good friend (and patron) of mine, and the selection there is outstanding.

Vinyl - check.
Tubes *cough* Valves - check.
Black and white film - double check.
Film noir - check.
Prints - check.

Absolutely! MMM camera’s (your term) are a delight just to fondle. They make nice sounds and have a satisfying heft even while compact in hand.
And, I like any instrument that has operating instructions that can be put on an index card.

Funny, for the last year or so I have used pencils instead of pens. Old fashioned wood pencils sharpened with a quality sharpener is a joy to write with. Palomino Blackwing 602 and Tombow MONO100 HB are my favorites.


I must belong to a younger dinosaur generation then, being approximately fifteen years younger than you.

For ten years I have been using fountain pens and, as Patrick wrote, there is no going back to ballpoints or other. It is an aesthetic pleasure experience like no other. The only other writing implement I can abide, besides the keyboard, is the wooden pencil. No snobism, just very comfortable tools.

I still use CDs, and would use LPs if I had the space. No streaming, no mp3s, and I am not even an audiophile, but I grew bored with listening to music from the smart phone. Identified the problem (flat sound), bought a dedicated player for lossless files, copy the CDs to it and am all set for as long as it keeps working.

I still use my quirky Pentax K-01 from 2013 and bought a used K-3 two years ago. Perfectly fine tools for an enthusiast and hobbyist. Will not buy another until they break or start to feel too heavy.

I still use a Ricoh GRIII from 2009 and would like to find a nice condition GR IV from 2011 just to quit worrying about the future for my pocket cams. The APS-C GR was probably an inevitable but to my mind unnecessary step, and the next rumoured to be full frame GR would be another step in the wrong direction because... GR cameras should be small and swift! Still dream about a fixed 50 GR but that would admittedly also be a step away from the GR aesthetic.

Books books books. Printed on paper. Don't even know where to start. Almost obsessed with them and it will never end.

I think it is not as much a dinosaur thing as a way of maintaining a hold onto objects, tools and experiences that you really connect with, and not allowing yourself to fall victim to advertising and the endless efforts from private industry to influence and control your judgment.

All the best/Mattias

Very much with you Mike. I think the point is that just because change is inevitable it does not mean it results in something that is better or even necessary. No need to despair though as many of the things you mention are enjoying a renaissance. Monochrome is more popular than ever and printing will never die because, as with vinyl records,the result is a real physical product that can be owned. My ten year old granddaughter has just asked me for a fountain pen. How about that.

What about shellac 78 rpm records? Why NOBODY cares of them now?
Only vinyl and vinyl...

I'm older than yoy, Mike, but I hate vinyl recors, analog photography, manual gear box and I prefer color whenever possible.

BTW I wrote SF short story "6L6GC" about audio tubes possessed by demon...

There is something about not wanting to relinquish control to a bunch of algorithms that you only half understand, don’t quite trust (sat nav) and can’t control via settings.

I have a fondness for items from previous generations of the family (pre baby boomer) that I can still use, and are small enough to fit into a townhouse.

My mechanical things just keep working! Pocket watch, 55 yr old tube amp and tuner, fountain pen, turntable and a 75 Saab V4. I have cameras dating back 100 years, still working well. What's not to like?

Odd: the other day I passed by a shop window awash with old dial telephones. Curiosity drew me into a conversation with the lady at the shop, who taught me it's impossible to convert those old phones into the present age of digital communication. With a rotary dial, dialing is so slow that the phone fails to connect. Even the last-gen button phones of the pre-RITA age are unable to cope with the speed of today's connections. It would be foolhardy to buy one of those telephones, save for strictly ornamental purposes. You see, even dinosaurs need to keep updated.
As for the lower quality of vinyl, you can't extract anything out of an LP with lesser cartridges and tonearms. Anything south of a Rega tonearm and Ortofon cartridge is a disaster. And turntables are awfully fiddly to set up. (Do you remember how Linn LP 12 aficionados would debate which grommets were the best-sounding?) Once everything falls into place, however, nothing is as blissful as listening to a good vinyl record.
And vinyl will survive CD. People can get the same (or equivalent) quality from digital files that they can download for free - or at least for a very low price -, so there's no point in buying CDs. Vinyl, on the other hand, is a tactile experience and far more gratifying to collect and preserve than CDs. (Why keep a CD collection if you can store all its content in a pen drive?)

For me, the older postage stamps are often little works of art. The stamps today are pretty much just stickers.


Not into typewriters?

So you and Tom wouldn't have a lot to talk about then?


Software seems so...arbitrary. The thought process in machines is three-dimensional and visible, and we can appreciate it. Maybe it's a replacement fantasy--we wish we were (or still were) the geniuses who could create such effective designs from mere materials.

I would add mechanical wristwatches to your list, surely the ultimate expression of precision micromachines. And even more expensive than that amplifier you linked (which, by the way, is about as snobby as a piece of audio gear can get.)

When I hold in my hands one of my Pentax 67's, or a Sinar Norma, I feel as thought I'm holding something. It's an object, not merely a concept. The concept that drove it had to pass muster in the three-dimensional world.

But that romance did not drive the engineers and manufacturers at Asahi back in the day. They were entirely focused on solving a particular problem using the best technology at hand. So, why do we revere it now? I think for us greybeards it reminds us of a time when experience trumped youth. We like that, given that we have an abundance of the former and none of the latter.

But I do see younger folks being strangely attracted to mechanical solutions of the past, and I think it's the high-touch reaction to high-tech predicted by Naisbitt 40 years ago. But not for me. High tech also holds magic for me, except when I'm resenting the adolescents who are dictating to me how I'm supposed to appreciate it. I just wish it would work as often as they insist it does.


Many of us have similar proclivities , often tied ,I think, to the idea of the mechanism. A mechanical train of parts, put together in ingenious ways to achieve a result far beyond what the mundane materials and often relatively simple parts would suggest.. What is more, we can see or feel or hear them working. The skill of the maker is on full display. The progression of parts and functions 'make sense' to us.
These objects often require our participation -weather winding a watch, Sharpening a fine hand plane or doing routine maintenance on a simple but exhilarating roadster.
These things speak our natural language, Analog.
This is not to say that the digital world cannot be as beautiful, but it requires a set of skills most of us do not have. You have to be a coder to see the elegance and beauty in code. We can certainly appreciate the RESULTS of the coder's efforts, we love our digital cameras etc, but we love them for the results they achieve not so much the elegant or beautiful way they handle quantum shot noise or 50 other things they have to do to produce the result we want.

People do miss that 'participation' or understanding of process. Just look at how vibrant the Maker Movement is. People are getting excited about making stuff with their hands and brain. Many are bridging the gap by using software controlled machines like CNC routers & 3D printers right along side traditional tools.
Guys like Jimmy DiResta have million subscriber YouTube channels by combining making with video kills and software like Fusion & Solid Works.
We may be on the verge of coming full circle where people love and appreciate the beauty and utility of software right along side hardware.
Very interesting times.

This post got me thinking about vinyl and the fading CD. I found a short, interesting article by a Grammy Award-winning mastering engineer that details the record making process. It's very interesting and was news to me. Like the author, I enjoy both vinyl and CD and the tie-in to this post is the fact that I still maintain a physical library of my favorite music. That's a bit of an antiquated approach here in the twenty teens.


the last frame of that calvin and hobbes strip could stand alone and be very meaningful.

I remain faithful to black and white film cameras,

but have forsaken printing in a darkroom. I now scan the negatives, and if I need prints, I go to Costco for them.

Regarding roadsters, the New Yorker had you pegged:


My son just went to his winter dance themed "All that jazz", and was extremely disappointed that they played no jazz!

While we don't do film noir around our house, we do like the old comedies, especially the Thin Man series.

Oh! I love dial phones. It is the only piece of technology I miss.
The fact that when hunging off the piece is done with such a satisfactory "clonck" of the handset over the switch hook is something I so sorely miss.

It is a very satisfying way to shut telemarketers off.

The only dinosaur that I want to be is a bird, thus the affinity for increasingly anachronistic motorcycles.

In the modern world of power tools, there is no denying the speed of the vast array of lithium powered tools, with their array of chargers, battery packs, drills, drivers, impacts, saws etc but then there is no denying the cost and complexity, either. Something appealing about the hands on-experience of simple T-handles, ratchets, bit and brace, hand drills, and manual screwdrivers.......all without motors.

While we are on the subject of writing instruments, I can't say enough about my 21st Century favorite. It's kind of a cross between a ball-point and a gel and it's only $3.


I found my old Sx-70 in a storeroom box, and the same week happened to a camera store carrying impossible project (or whatever it's called film), so I bought a "roll" (box?) of B&W, at A$44 for 8 x photos, which is $5.50 per each minuscule analogue B&W polaroid print. I can't bring myself to take a picture with it in case its no good. The lessons being that I should leave my memories of the good old analogue days as memories - the Moving Finger writes; and having writ, moves on ... etc.

I'll bet you remember this one, which is still on my fridge:


Slide Rules: long after they were superseded by scientific calculators (Reverse Polish Notation, of course) for everything else, slide rules were unsurpassed for selecting a pair of resistors to divide down a voltage to any required fraction. It was so easy to get a visual idea of which pair of the standard resistor values gave the best fit.

Nowadays, wooden pencils, Faber Castell ones, and pigment fineline pens seem to work for me.

I'm with you, Mike, on books, printed photos and films noir. But I'm completely over valve amplifiers, turntables, sports cars, manual shifts and silver-based photography (except old prints).

Before retiring I played a role in the rise of electric power steering, so I'm strongly biased in favour!

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