Commentary: Technology

By Louis A. Zona

YOUNGSTOWN, Ohio – I recently spoke outside the Butler Institute on its art collection. The organization told me it owns a carousel slide projector that I was welcome to use.

Wow, a slide projector! That will make me one happy speaker, I thought. To make that even better, I had safely stored my 35mm slide collection that had escaped the destruction of my far-too-fancy colleagues. They’re the ones who always think computer-computer-computer and forget the ever faithful slide projectors.

On my way to the church basement where I spoke, I made sure that my eight-track player was in running order and that my eight-track tape of Mario Lanza singing light opera classics was within reach. My philosophy is: Throw nothing away. You never know when an eight-track will be needed.

Before I left home, however, I had to deal with a temperamental carburetor on my Hudson Hornet that was giving me fits. Wait a minute. Where the heck is the carburetor in these darned newer machines?

And where could they have possibly hidden the battery in these doggone newer vehicles? I’m madder than a hornet and feel like whacking the mechanic with my ever-handy slide rule.

They’ve got to be kidding about the battery being under the driver’s side seat – I never heard of such a thing. And what the heck do you mean that you never heard of a slide rule? Am I in “The Twilight Zone?” That slide rule may come in handy again someday.

I was telling my university class that I enjoy listening to my phonograph and prize my phonograph records, especially those that are Hi-Fi. But to tell the truth, someone gave me a cassette player for my birthday and I’m having a heck of a time trying to figure out the local telephone directory.

I took it to Joey’s radio shop where the clerk tried to sell me something called a Walkman. I determined that it would be impossible to figure out that little thing, especially the part that hangs on your belt and somehow sends a wire up to your ear. It clearly would never work for me.

I asked a friend at work if he could help me to duplicate a letter on the copier. All those buttons to push scared the heck out of me. I guess that I’ll go back to my faithful typewriter and use tried and true carbon paper.

Looking up a telephone number used to be a simple process. You went to your local phone directory – white pages for individuals, yellow for companies – and you found the number.

Now this curse called the internet leads you through numerous dead ends until you find something that looks like a directory. Instead of using something that looks like a telephone directory, why not use a telephone directory? But telephone books went out with vacuum tubes.

Ah, do you remember when vacuum tubes were our friend? Back in the day, one of the predictable heartaches was the realization that my family’s precious television set had broken down. At first, of course, we called the television repairman who came to our home with an oversized suitcase that contained dozens of new vacuum tubes, one or two of which he plugged into your TV. He hoped the problem would be a simple replacement.

If by chance Mr. Guido (who repaired TVs as a sideline) declared to the anxious family that the TV had to go to the shop for further analysis (the mere replacement of a tube or two had not solved the problem), the whole family suffered depression.

It meant that Tuesday night would not be filled with the slapstick humor of Uncle Milty (Milton Berle), that Mom would have to miss Bishop Sheen and I would miss Saturday morning westerns and Paul Winchell and Jerry Mahoney.

The days of vacuum tubes lighting up our TV screens ended in the 1960s with the advent of the transistor and then light emitting diodes (LEDs)

Getting back to the trusty vacuum tube of my youth: As I recall, the large console radios that existed before HDTV sets did not burn out many vacuum tubes, maybe because radios simply did not consume that much electricity compared to televisions.

So the era when the doctor made house calls was also the era of the TV repairman, probably held in equal esteem. I do recall that our favorite doctor had a beautiful Lincoln Continental and the equally beloved TV repairman a Chevy Bel Aire.

God forbid if the news came back from the repair shop that the picture tube needed to be replaced. That meant that the patient needed hospitalization and might be near death. And if the picture tube was a goner, get ready to take out a loan from your favorite savings and loan association.

In the days before cable television, we relied on the rooftop antenna to pick up the signal the station sent through the air. If you had the money, you could invest in a device that rotated the antenna so you could get a clearer picture, especially if you were 50 miles from the station.

But our rotator was my father who climbed to our rooftop and physically turned the antenna while yelling down, “Better now or better before?” And if you were rich enough you could invest in a booster that increased your chances of a clearer picture without that horrible enemy called snow.

Dad hated TV snow. It made daytime viewing that much harder, especially if the antenna was near an industrial site with machinery in operation.

Better before, Dad!