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Retro Technology

Time Trip – Card Catalogs and Microfiche Viewers

Everyone who uses the Internet knows that research is a cinch. No matter what the obscure topic, you can find info on it within, say, a half hour. The Internet is the collective knowledge of entire cultures.

Back in the day, you might have actually broken a sweat while doing research.Those encyclopedias were heavy.

Wikipedia’s Weighty Ancestors

Just a few decades ago, every responsible parent seriously considered purchasing a set of encyclopedias at about the time their little scholars hit the later years of elementary school. It was a heavy investment. My 14.99 annual subscription to Encyclopedia Britannica’s app is cheap by comparison.

UBN_Collier's_EncyclopediaThe reason for this investment was because the encyclopedia was where all research started. And that was all they were intended to be. Most topics only had a paragraph or two. Some had a page, maybe two or three. A few were as thick as a chapter in a book.

My own Dad purchased his encyclopedia set while he was in graduate school. It was somewhat dated by the time we were researching science projects. The moon landings were still speculative, and the Gemini missions were still in flight. I recall that its depiction of the neanderthal was based on the now-discredited Piltdown Man. They were still quite useful. I loved to browse through them, and I used it to learn basic sign language. I taught it to a friend, which we used as a secret language until it got us into trouble with our fifth grade teacher.

Dad subscribed to the annual yearbooks through the early 70s. Each yearbook consisted of another thick tome to add to the end of the set, with the year printed on the spine in large gold letters. They made for fascinating reading about what happened that year, similar to Wikipedia’s entries on individual years. (If you didn’t know about that, here’s 1922.)

Card Catalogs

card-catalogelementary-7-638Your next step in your research odyssey was to get your butt to the library.

The card catalog–depending on the size of the library–was also a vast index to a large number of obscure topics. Learning how to use them was required by the 4th grade or so, and by the 7th grade, you generally knew the Dewey Decimal System well enough to navigate the stacks with some degree of competence. You’d find your topic in the catalog, write down the location numbers, and locate your books on the shelf–clustered together by topic. Then you’d lug the books to a table and got to work.

At the end of each book, you’d find a bibliography which would lead you, like hyperlinks, to the author’s own sources. Following these retro hyperlinks meant tracking down libraries with the book you needed, driving there, and checking them out. You could also use the inter-library loan system, wherein a library van would circulate among area libraries, delivering books that had been requested by patrons at each one. This method, however, involved patience.

Years ago, my pet historical topic was the first Crusade. I read every book on the subject that I could get my hands on, from both sides of the conflict. One source that was often referenced was The Alexiad by Anna Comnena. It was a rare that any of these sources were women. She was the daughter of the emperor of the Byzantine empire, and wrote about the crusaders when they passed through Constantinople. I tried to track down a translated copy without success for several years before I finally found it in my college library. It was a lot of work just to read a few chapters. Nowadays, you can Google “the alexiad” and have a copy on your hard drive in about 30 seconds.

Microfiche Viewers

For microfiche, I give you this video:

Microfiche also comes by the spool, and those are really fun. You can speed by images so fast that they almost blur together, and then stop when you see something interesting. It’s like driving through newspapers. Don’t race through the pages for a long time, however. The librarian is sure to come along–like a traffic cop–and ask you to slow down.

Advantages over Today’s Tech

I like to include this section because when you upgrade, there’s almost always a trade-off. Sometimes, it takes a while to find because for research, the Internet is hard to beat.

Card Catalogs pointed you to books that you would never otherwise know existed (as does Google books), and encyclopedias were great for browsing through at random (yes, I know, Wikipedia has a random page option). But most of all, microfiche viewers–the spool-fed ones–are hard to beat. Browsing through images on the Internet is laborious due to the very nature of the Internet. I bet libraries have better options, but it has been a while since I’ve had to research anything that I have not been able to find on the Internet.


I came up with the idea for these Time Trips while writing my time travel novel, HIGHWAY TO YESTERDAY. For all the Time Trip posts I’ve written so far, click here.

Time Trip – Geekdom, by Decade, Part 1

For a few Time Trip posts (not necessarily the next few–those are gonna take lots of research) I thought I’d take a look at all things geek throughout the decades of the 20th century. This list is by no means comprehensive.

I’m going to start with the easiest – what I remember. And a little beyond.

mosaic-browser1990s – The Internet

When I took my UNIX class in the early 90s, I was intrigued by all the geeks playing a Dungeons and Dragons-like game by computer. They were using MUDs, or multi-user dungeons, the precursors to today’s multiplayer games. UNIX could have doubled as an early Internet course, because back then, the only way to get to the Internet was via UNIX. By the end of the course, everyone was talking about the new Mosaic browser, and accessing the Internet via a slip account and telnet. I taught my husband the basics of the pine email client, and we managed to get Mosaic installed on our Windows machines. What a blast.

… and build-it-yourself computers

In the 90s, you could not claim certifiable geekdom without building your own computer. So I went to Incredible Universe, bought all the necessary parts, and built my dream machine. So I did it once. I never did it again.

BTW, in the mid-late 90s, it was geek chic to sign your emails with your own personalized Geek code. Here’s mine. (I left out the politics sections.)

GIT D+ S+:+ A+ C++ U+ P- L+ E— W++ N O– K- W++ M+ V– T+@ 5 X R+ TV- B++ DI+ D++ G E+ H—- R+++

If you want to figure out yours, have at it here: But you may not understand some of it–it’s a bit dated. And there’s nothing in it about building your own computers.

pc101980s – Personal Computers

If the Internet was geeky in the 90s, then even owning a computer was geeky in the 80s. At least, owning a DOS computer was geeky. There were Commodore 64s and MACs that weren’t nearly so geeky. In order to qualify as a geek in the 80s, you had to know your way around a DOS prompt, program a little in GW/BASIC, understand the 640k barrier, and have the ability to edit batch files.

… and amateur photography

I include this because a special hallmark of the geeky tourist was the 35mm camera. Preferably one with a big lens. I didn’t have a big lens, but I got my 35mm camera for my 18th birthday. I used it for twenty years. I even started using slides and eschewed regular film, so I have a slide projector, screen, and lots of slides.

And I never really caught onto digital photography at all.

PlayersHandbook8Cover1970s – Role Playing Games

In the 70s, being a geek wasn’t chic at all. They took actual abuse. See Revenge of the Nerds (which actually came out in the 80s) to see what those geeks were like. I was too young to be geek a 70s, but I have known enough older geeks to know what they were into back then.

Anyway, RPGs got their start with tabletop games like Axis and Allies, Panzer Blitz, and, of course, Star Fleet Battles. These morphed into role-playing games, Dungeons and Dragons, and then AD&D, being the biggest of them all. I never played them until my 80s, but I remembered seeing it played in the movie, ET.

… and UNIX

UNIX got its start in the 70s as well. My dad used to get a kick out of all the long-haired and bearded UNIX geeks at work. When I was a software developer, I didn’t use any graphical tools at all. I’d have two windows open with vi pointing to my code, another one open for sedding and grepping, and a fourth for miscellaneous tasks, such as executing code and pouring through log files. It was pure geeky bliss.

Do you have any cool (or maybe not-so-cool) geek memories to share?


I came up with the idea for these Time Trips while writing my time travel novel, HIGHWAY TO YESTERDAY. For all the Time Trip posts I’ve written so far, click here.

Time Trip – Fill ‘er Up!

I am old enough to remember gas station attendants. Barely.

mobil4Here’s the procedure for getting gas during the 70s, as I recall it:

  • Pull up to the pump.
  • Wait.
  • Boy (always a boy) comes up wearing a shirt and pants of a particular shade of blue. He smells of fuel. On the chest of the shirt is an oval tag with his name stitched on. A simple, short name, such as “Bob,” “John” or “Mike”.
  • After some sort of polite greeting, he asks, “regular or unleaded?”
  • You reply, “Fill ‘er up with regular.” (or unleaded, but not common until the 80s)
  • The kid activates the pump, sticks the hose in your car, pulls the lever, and locks it in place.
  • You watch the dials spin. The dial that indicates the number of gallons just whizzes by, while the dial that indicates the amount of dollars performs a slow crawl You know–the opposite of today.
  • While the gas is filling up, the boy cleans your windshield. You watch the squeegee swipe the splatted bugs away. The smell of gasoline drifts in the open windows, because you have no AC.
  • Something clunks. The kid takes the hose out–dumping fuel everywhere and dousing down the side of your car–and hangs it back up on the side of the pump.
  • He gives you some dollar figure that now seems improbable, like, “Three-fifty-five, sir.”
  • You hand cash out the window. This amount includes the tip. You say, “Keep the change.” If you need change, it’ll be a while.
  • He thanks you and tells you to have a nice day.
  • You drive off.

In the 80s, the concept of the self-service gas station arose. There were different lanes for self-service and full service. Full service seemed to be a way to screw over old ladies, like my aunt, who was daunted at the idea of pumping her own gas and always paid extra for full service.

But eventually, even full-service went the way of the gravity-operated gas pump.

Advantages over Modern Tech

This is easy–the service. Getting gas was a leisurely activity, during which you just sat there. Disadvantage? These gas stations weren’t a good place to grab a snack. The tiny room that housed the cash register only seemed to sell automotive things like cans of oil and windshield-wipers. And maybe cigarettes. They were not places where women–or girls–ever ventured (unless maybe, you smoked). Cold drinks were sold out of vending machines outside. Oh, and you could get gumballs. Eventually, they started advertising snacks for sale inside, which morphed into the modern convenience store.


I came up with the idea for these Time Trips while writing my time travel novel, HIGHWAY TO YESTERDAY. For all the Time Trip posts I’ve written so far, click here.

Time Trip – Home Entertainment Back In the Day

When one mentions “home entertainment”, they often think of electronics. But when I was a child, there was more to it than that. When you really only have 4 TV channels, there isn’t always something on TV that will satisfy the diverse interests of a large family. On such occasions, Mom would troop us all into the living room to do something else. Like what? Here are some things that stand out:

Board Games

Monopoly was a big favorite, as it continues to be today. We also wore out our Parcheesi game, The Game of Life, and Clue. In a family of five children, sometimes the games ended with ugly fights, but most of the time, the games went on for hours before a winner was determined–especially Monopoly.

In the early 80s, Trivial Pursuit became a brief favorite. However, when my Dad won every game, time and again, the rest of us lost interest.


I hated playing cards growing up, so my mother sweetened the deal by issuing M&Ms in order to bet. It taught us to carefully husband our quantity rather than gulping them all down. We played Crazy Eights, Spoons, and other kid-friendly games with names that I no longer recall. Again, these games often went on long after our usual bedtimes.


Mom would get a 1000 piece puzzle and work on it in the evenings. She kept it on the dining room table under the table pads (I don’t know what to call them–they covered the whole table). We’d work on them night after night.

Hide and Seek

This was a favorite while there were still young children in our house, and we could slip into the smallest spaces. After a while, we just got too old to hide effectively. When before, we could squirm under the bed, after a point, there was a danger of getting stuck, even if you were skinny. And suddenly you realized just how dusty it was under there.


My Dad had a telescope that was old even when I was a child, and on autumn and spring nights, when it was clear, we would often go stargazing in the front yard. We never did this in the summer because the air was thick with mosquitoes.

I remember one time, when I was very young, Dad was excited because there was an eclipse of the moon. Thankfully, it was a clear night. However, I was terrified. The thought of something different happening to the moon was totally out of my realm of experience, and scared me enough to get me crying. However, Dad persevered and got me to look through the viewfinder. At which time, I was so relieved to see the moon that I stopped crying immediately, and didn’t even notice it’s odd color.

Home Movie and Slide Shows

My Dad was an amateur photographer and had an 8mm movie camera and projector, and a 35mm camera. While they were functional (5 kids are hard on things like that), he filmed and photographed us at every occasion and once a year or so, we’d have movie night. I thought of this because I recently toted home all the slides and movies, along with the old movie projector and slide projector. I actually have a projector screen, so we’ll be able to have movie night here as well, once nice dark night in late fall or winter.

Since all this tech is so old, I’ll be sure to have a fire extinguisher handy that is safe to use on electrical fires. (Just kidding–I hope.)

Electronic Games?

We didn’t have any electronic games in the 70s. Richer kids might have, but no one that I ever heard of had one until the 80s. We ended up reading a lot of books. I was a reluctant reader, but was still reading novels regularly by age 11.

Advantages over Modern Tech

I can’t think of any. Why? Because you can still do all of the above today. Home movies and slides are now reborn in the digital sense, and you can easily play both on your TV. It’s hard to see the advantage of the old tech, except maybe in atmosphere. There’s nothing like the smell of an old slide projector burning … something. Dust, I hope. Along with popcorn, it somehow adds to the experience.

When you were growing up, what did you family like to do on a boring Saturday night?


I came up with the idea for these Time Trips while writing my time travel novel, HIGHWAY TO YESTERDAY. For all the Time Trip posts I’ve written so far, click here.

Time Trip: Changing the Channel

When I was a kid in the 70s, we had a great stereo. It was capable of booming out Strauss’s Also sprach Zarathustra (aka the theme to 2001: A Space Odyssey) at window-rattling decibels. Which is exactly the way my uber-nerd young dad liked it. He didn’t listen to rock-and-roll, and he didn’t care if the entire neighborhood knew it.

But there wasn’t much to that old stereo except the record player, the receiver, and the speakers. Dad had it mounted on a shelf installed above the TV. The record played at 72, 45 and 32 RPM. It was fun to listen to records at the wrong RPM, because the sound would either get too slow or too fast. The scratchy beat you hear in Rap music was well-known to us when someone bumped the record player, because the needle would go scratching across the record, often ruining the delicate vinyl.

Oh, and don’t leave records in your car on a hot day. They melt.

The TV was big and boxy and encased in actual wood. It had dials instead of buttons, and you had to turn the channel via knobs. It was considered furniture, and doubled as a sideboard. We kids sat on the floor in order to watch.

Here’s our TV, all decked out for Christmas. I think I see a volume slider. Check out the stereo and speakers above. I over-adjusted the color so you can see the detail.

70s TVA common superstition at the time was that you should not sit too close to the TV–it would hurt you, somehow. I don’t know the nature of this dreaded malady, but I did find out that if you tested your mother’s theory, your nose might get a nasty static shock.

There was no remote. To change the channel, you got up, walked over, and twisted a dial.

Where I grew up, we had channel 2 (NBC), 6 (CBS) and 9 (ABC), plus PBS, which I think may have been channel 5. Later on, we got a local independent channel at number 12 or so, and then even later, we got FOX on channel 15. Something else was on Channel 33 or thereabouts. These were on the UHF channels, because VHF (Very High Frequency and Ultra High Frequency) only went to channel 12 or 13.

When there was nothing on TV, there really was nothing on TV. Saturday morning was all cartoons, and Sunday morning was all Christian broadcasts. Star Trek reruns were on the independent channel on Sunday Nights at 6. Happy Days was on Tuesday Nights at 8. Love Boat was on Saturday Night at 9.

Advantages over Modern Tech

Yes, those old TVs had some advantages over modern tech. These days, when you turn on a TV, often nothing happens while it boots up. So unless you pressed the button on the TV itself (which I often do), you don’t know for about ten seconds if the danged thing is on, or if you didn’t aim the remote in the right direction. This situation often perplexes the older people in my life, who are accustomed to TVs lighting up immediately when you turn them on.

In the old days, when you turned on the TV, you would see a dot. It would eventually grow to fill the screen. If your hearing was good, you also heard a high-pitched whine that was quickly subsumed by the TV audio.

Got any old TV memories to share?


I came up with the idea for these Time Trips while writing my time travel novel, HIGHWAY TO YESTERDAY. For all the Time Trip posts I’ve written so far, click here.

A Moonstruck Time Capsule Geek-Out

Back in the 70s, my family would occasionally have Saturday Night Slide Show night at our house. Dad would pull out the slides and we’d spend hours munching on Mom’s popcorn, listening to Mom and Dad as they narrated the slides. Sometimes Mom would even cook the popcorn over the fire. In this special aluminum container that would billow into a huge ball as the popcorn popped.

Recently, my husband scanned every one of Dad’s slides. There were over a thousand. Well, look at some of the gems we found. These never made the Saturday Night Slide Shows. Maybe Dad thought he would bore us.

Nixon Moon ChatYes, that’s Nixon you see there, taking to the astronauts during the first moon landing. Dad took a picture of the TV! There is over a dozen of these slides, some not even of anything recognizable.

I remember when he took these. (Yeah, I know; I’m aging myself.) Dad had to take these at a slow shudder speed because otherwise he would have gotten a bar across the TV screen showing an incompletely rendered picture. That’s why they’re blurry; he didn’t have a tripod. Plus the pictures were, yanno, moving.

Here are some more of the ones that turned out the best:

Moon Buggy?Looks like they’re putting up the flag, here.My beautiful pictureMilling about the moon, just because we can.My beautiful pictureLove that retro caption! Way to cover up the subject of the picture with the caption. Broadcasting types have learned a lot since then.

And finally:

Moonstruck PicnicMy sisters, brother, my Mom, and me at a picnic. I’m the daydreamy one wearing brown in the back. How does this picture fit in with the above? Check out the moon landing photos in the newsmagazine next to Mom.

I remember the moon landings quite clearly, but not the picnic. Looks like fun times anyway.

Game Review – Ultima V: Warriors of Destiny

Ultima V: Warriors of Destiny
Origin, Systems (now Electronic Arts)

Available through as part of a bundled set for 5.99.


Yes, I am reviewing a game that is over 25 years old. Hang with me here.

Ultima 5 is quite possibly the greatest computer game ever written. It was also the first computer RPG I ever played. Did that make me biased? Maybe. But I have played MANY games since and none comes close, except maybe Ultima VI.

I’m told Ultima VII is even better. I never got a chance to play it, but maybe now I will. You see, through an agreement with Electronic Arts, all the old Ultimas–plus many, many other good old games, are now available for purchase at (gog as in good old games). I paid 5.99 for Ultima IV, V and VI.

In Ultima V, you play the Avatar, who achieved Avatarhood in Ultima IV (another good old game, but which feels a bit too primitive even for me). Your task now is to find and free Lord British, the ruler of the lands. To do so, you must banish the Shadowlords, the success of which depends on you retaining your purity as an Avatar.

Unlike many games of today, it is an unabashed quest of good vs. evil. However, there are very intriguing shades of gray. One is the villain, Lord Blackthorn. But Lord Blackthorn is a victim himself, under the influence of the Shadowlords. By banishing the Shadowlords, you free Blackthorn. I don’t know what happens after that. I never played the game all the way to its conclusion.

Why is the game so fun? Let me count the ways:

  • Freedom of movement – you want to travel to the Eastern Deserts? Go right ahead. I hope you’re able to take on those daemons. Any places that are difficult to get to are only so because they are high in mountains, deep in swamps, or down in dungeons.
  • Quests – All quests are linked, and they all have a purpose toward the greater goal. The shrines at which you meditate on the virtues will send you on quests. You must go on quests to locate the objects with which you can banish the Shadowlords. And you must go on quests to prove yourself trustworthy enough to join the Resistance.
  • Awesome! A resistance? It is every bit as cool as it sounds. And getting in is half the fun. Yes, I remember the password for the resistance. But I don’t remember who finally trusted me enough to tell me. So I am going through all the Resistance quests as well.
  • You also have to fake your way into the Oppression. Opposing political factions are one reason this game is so fun.
  • Secret doors. They’re everywhere. Look at walls closely! And some secret passageways are behind fireplaces … which are lit, so you have to take damage to get through them.
  • You can freely raid chests, bookcases and trunks with little fear of punishment unless someone sees you do it. But you will pay a price in your Virtue score.
  • Ships! Horses! Magic carpets! No walking everywhere.
  • Speaking of ships, I am now prowling the coastlines, trying to tempt pirates into attacking me. If I can defeat them, I can take their ship.
  • You’d better take notes. There is no auto-journal of any sort. It’s up to you. If you forget who sent you to talk to someone, you’ll have to go back and get the clue all over again. I have a steno book dedicated to the game.

Here are some screenshots from my game:

Oh, good. I have reached Yew on my magic carpet. Yew is an excellent place to buy magical components, plus I need to ask someone here about the Resistance.

Dang! An “air of falsehood”. Dead giveaway about a Shadowlord being in town. I’d better prowl around the forests and kill orcs for a day, and maybe try again tomorrow.

The graphics are definitely 80s, and so is the interface. But the story is absolutely excellent, and I play these kinds of games for the stories, yanno.

Tips if you play:

  • When you use a moongate, keep track of the phase of the moon and where the moongate took you.
  • When someone gives you a clue about a particular city, go to that city’s page in your notebook and write the clue there, along with who sent you.
  • In each city, you’ll need to find the virtue, mantra for the associated shrine, and power word for the associated dungeon.
  • Buy vast quantities of food, ginseng, garlic and silk.
  • When entering a city with an “air of” something bad, immediately turn around and leave.

If you can get past the 80s graphics, you will find this game great fun, with hours of play. The balance is just right, without endless hack-and-shash, except maybe in the Underworld. Now if I can just figure out a way to get those daemons to stop teleporting in other daemons.

It is definitely worth the 5.99, because then you get to play Ultima VI, in which you are the hero from Ultima V!

I'm Hopeless: More Retro-Tech


What was the sigh for? Film photography.

More specifically, SLR film photography.

I’m fairly high-tech without being cutting edge. I have devices with all three of the major cellphone operating systems–iPhone (my iPod Touch–still used daily), Android (my personal cell phone) and BlackBerry (for work–just got it and I’m surprised at how much it rocks). But none are bleeding-edge. I have an ebook reader, but it’s a first-generation Nook. I have a laptop that will run the games of 2007 (specifically, Oblivion).

So I tend to like yesterday’s technology. Or yesteryear’s.

Here is my SLR camera, equipped with its monstrous flash. It’s a Minolta XG-1, purchased in 1984, for my high school graduation:

Yeah, so I’m old. Anyway. My husband just got the camera that took this picture. A Nikon D3100 Digital SLR. Nothing beats being able to look in that viewfinder to compose your shot, especially when you know that you are looking at what the picture will look like. Somehow, I never got into using a viewscreen. I just couldn’t seem to see it as well. So this may be the digital camera that rekindles my interest in photography.

Yeah, like all I need is another hobby.

Anyway, my husband asked if my XG-1 still works. I said sure, it just needs batteries. However, it did have this problem with mold–there was mold in the eyepiece lens and I suspected there was some in the shutter, because every once in a while, you would see a ghost of the shutter curtain across the frame, as if the shutter had paused or slowed down as it was flying back and forth.

But we got us some batteries anyway, along with some film (3 bucks for 2 rolls!), and some batteries for the flash. Here’s a closer picture of the camera, itself:

It’s in such good shape because I got a custom-fitted leather case for it the same year it was purchased. Nowadays, you would call it a skin. It’s cool because you just unsnapped a button (yeah! A genuine button!) and the cover over the lens would flip down, and you could take your picture with the camera still in its case. In addition to the flash, I have a zoom/macro lens. It’s huge and weighty, but not as huge and weighty as my husband’s zoom from 1982. The technology had shrunk up a bit by 1995, when I bought the zoom, used.

I decided to clean the camera up with a can of air. I’m holding it so close to my face because I’m nearsighted, and I see really well extra close up.

I’m cleaning the tracks of the curtain. I also held the shutter open and cleaned out the guts of the shutter mechanism. I’m thinking that humidity probably caused the mold. I’m not sure if the blasts of air did any good, but I figured I’d test with a couple of rolls of film and see if the shadow returns.

After that, I don’t know what I’m going to do with it. Because I kinda like my hubby’s new camera.


My Retro-Tech Vacation – A Photo Story

My dad is an engineer who grew up during the golden age of electronics, and who infused me with a considerable portion of my geekiness.  He is a great go-to person for questions on almost any topic. He is the king of Trivial Pursuit. When my husband and I were dating, I said to him, “Watch this.” Then, I said to my dad, “What does DNA stand for?” Without missing a beat, he said, “Deoxyribonucleic acid” (I had to look up the spelling). He was great to have around while struggling with homework. No math question was ever too difficult for him, no matter how difficult the math got. He tutors to this day. My husband once said it was like growing up with Doc Brown from Back to the Future as Dad.

Not my dad.

While I was on vacation this week, we were going through some old pictures when I came across his old ham radio cards, or QSL Cards. I didn’t happen to think to take any pictures of them, but I found one in the Internet so you can see what I’m talking about.

Unfortunately, my father no longer has any of his own QSL cards. He started telling us this story of how he got his ham radio license when he was fifteen, and how he built his own ham radio transmitter out of vacuum tubes and spare parts with the help of a retired Navy chief who lived just down the street. It is a fun story, and more details come out every time he tells it. I never heard about the Navy chief before this particular telling.

Fast forward a few days. Out of the blue, my mother asks my dad if something can be done about their old 8mm home movies. Can they be made into DVDs? Then, he starts talking about the projector, which is still in the garage. It hasn’t worked since the early ’70s.

I said to him, “You can fix it.”

He looked at me doubtfully.

I said, “Dad. You cobbled together a ham radio transmitter out of spare parts. Whatever is wrong with that projector, I’m sure you can fix.”

Mom tells him to go get it, and he dutifully brings it into the kitchen, and pulls it out of the box, along with about a dozen film reels. It’s a Kodak Brownie 8mm Film Projector. It’s dusty and made of metal, and is very retro-looking. A lot of unidentifiable dust comes out along with it, which my mother says is roach poop. There’s at least one dead silverfish.

Dad opens the front and the back, looking for the power cord, then he stops, puzzled, because it’s not there.

“There it is!” I said, pointing to a stub of a power cord poking out the front, where this one is.

Not our projector. Click to zoom.

At this point, we all think that the projector is junk. I mean, when an electrical gadget has no cord, that’s it, isn’t it? I go to the computer and start googling “brownie 8mm projector”. I even find one for 40 bucks, minus a lamp. My mom comes in and sidetracks me by having me price Irish crystal. You know, girly stuff. We’re in there for about 20 minutes.

We come back to this:

Click to zoom in.

Yes, that’s speaker wire that he’s started to splice in. It turns out, there’s a little bit of cord left underneath the grommet that was on the front panel. He assures me that speaker wire is good enough for now, since the projector only uses X amount of watts, not that I knew enough to be worried. (Since I’m a computer programmer, he talks to me in engineer-ese, expecting me to understand. I retaliate by talking to him in programmer-ese.)

Anyway, he hooks up the other end of the speaker wire to a plug that he just happens to have. I mean, we all have plugs handy in our tool box, don’t we?

Then, he peers at it, dissatisfied. The plug, he pronounces, is unsafe. He rips it apart, and goes out and gets a mac-daddy, supersafe plug. That he happens to have. At this point, we’re all just waiting for him to plug the danged thing in. He reassembles the safe plug, and then, just like Doc Brown, he apologizes for the crudity of his operation. He didn’t have time to get a proper power cord, yanno, or splices or grommets. I take on the role of Michael J. Fox, and I tell him that it’s fine.

Genius At Work

Time for the first test. It will only smoke a little, he tells us, if there is something wrong with the electrical aspects of it (whatever they are). He makes sure it is in the off position, and then without a fear, he plugs it in.

No smoke.

Next test: he flips it on. The light shines bright and after a bit of sluggishness — entirely understandable because it’s been in a box for 38 years — the danged motor starts to move.

We cheered!

Next test: an actual movie. We didn’t have a return reel, so we played an old Woody Woodpecker silent cartoon. A vaguely familiar electrical smell filled the room while husband held up a pillowcase to act as a projector screen, and we watched it upside down (it wasn’t safe enough to turn upright yet). As it played, I hand-fed the film into a coil, which we tied off and set aside. Presto. The empty reel is now a return reel.

Eventually, we ended up in the living room where we watched it like this:

Click to enlarge.

Yes, that’s a flatscreen TV that we are projecting it onto, covered with a folded sheet. There’s something poetic about using a flatscreen TV as a projector screen for an 8mm movie, but I’m not sure what it is.

Here’s the running projector, still sans covers:

Sorry so blurry. Click to enlarge.

It’s on an ironing board, because of it’s height-adjustable features and the fireproof cloth cover. Never mind the newspaper.

Since I have the only movie projector screen in the family, we plan to have a get-together where he will bring the projector (cleaned up and with the proper power cord, or course), all the movies and all the slides (yes, he has those too, but I have the only slide projector), and we will show them to the entire family for the first time in almost 40 years.

Now that will be worth another blog post.