I was thinking the other day about words and phrases, describing specific technologies, that have outlived their original purpose. Despite that, some of these words and phrases continue on in daily use. Others have fallen by the wayside. Tonight, we will review some of these.
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Please join me below the orange croissant for more.
Back in the old days, when computers were the size of rooms, and definately didn't fit into your pocket, there was magnetic core memory, or core. From the 1950s through the early 1970s, magnetic core was the predominant random-access memory (RAM) technology. Each bit of memory was represented by one discrete ring of ferrite, with two wires running through it. The wires were used to read and write the value of a bit, either zero or one, depending on which direction the core was magnetized during the write cycle. Early on, you could actually see each individual bit with the naked eye. As the technology improved toward the end of the technology's life span, the cores got smaller and smaller.
The computers in the Space Shuttle originally used core memory. Contrary to popular belief, the shuttle did not use the latest and greatest computer technology, although it did evolve somewhat. Any technology deployed on the shuttle had to be proven, and dependable, especially in harsh conditions. Core memory was non-volatile, meaning that it retained its contents even with loss of power, and in the presence of some radiation. Today's portable memory is also non-volatile, but several memory technologies between then and now were not.
In the image below, we have a modern-day micro SD card, that many of you might have in your cell phone or camera. This one holds 8GB of current-technology memory. Thats 8 gigabytes, and since a byte is 8 bits, that's 64 gigabits. The SD card is resting on a patch of 64 cores within a larger memory array. That's 64 bits that you can see with the naked eye, or 8 bytes. The SD card holds a billion times more data than the core patch, yet is smaller, faster, and less power hungry. We've come a long way, baby.
Computers had and will continue to have, memory. What's changed is the implementation of that memory, and what we call it.
Back in the old days, radios and televisions contained vacuum tubes. These were analog devices used to implement the functions of amplifiers, rectifiers, switches, and other electronic components. Bell Laboratories began demonstrating transistors in the 1940s. Development continued through the 1950s, and a new market for transistor radios exploded in the 1960s.
As a child of the 50s and 60s myself, I remember these new radios becoming popular very quickly. This began the era of portable music; something you could take with you anywhere. We were no longer constrained by a radio being a bulky piece of furniture that had to be plugged into a wall socket at all times.
And we called them that: transistor radios. Not just radios. But a term that is based on a very specific technology is bound to die off sooner or later. Eventually, along came the portable tape player (Walkman), the portable CD player (Discman), and others. Many of these incorporated radios to make all-inclusive devices. If you see a radio now, it's just called a radio.
Except maybe Internet Radio, as a whole new thing.
Film and Tape
Suppose you manufactured a very popular product, of high quality, affordable to almost anyone, well respected. Then the bottom fell out of your market, and your entire brand was suddenly obsolete.
You might be Kodak or Polaroid, among others.
Nobody uses film anymore, right? Well there are still some movie directors shooting on actual film, but their numbers are diminishing rapidly. Kodak pulled the plug on its Kodachrome brand of film (used by amateurs as well as professionals) a few years ago. Movies largely went from film direct to digital. Television, on the other hand, went from film to video tape, then to digital.
In the early days of television, some programs were filmed, and others presented live. The iconic I Love Lucy was filmed in the early 1950s with a three-camera setup largely credited to Desi Arnaz, Lucy's husband and head of Desilu studios. The film and editing process made it easy to preserve these programs over time.
Live productions were problematic for a couple of reasons: difficulty in preserving a program, and the ability to air a show across multiple time zones.
The kinescope process was the answer, at the time, to these problems. Basically, a video monitor was set up, with a film camera recording directly from the monitor, in real time, as a program was being broadcast live. Thus, a permanent record of the show was being made, though the quality was not as good as original film would have been. Many of the very early television shows still exist today only in kinescope form, if at all.
Kinescopes were also used by networks for delayed broadcasting. Many shows originated live in New York, and were filmed on kinescope in Los Angeles, via a coaxial cable and microwave system that became active in 1952. The film was then rush processed, and the show would be broadcast for the west coast three hours later.
Videotape changed everything. As the 1950s progressed, the introduction of videotape made kinescope obsolete, but not film. Many high-quality productions continued to be shot on film, well into the 1970s and beyond. But tape made big inroads, for both pre-recorded material, as well as for time-zone shifting of live productions.
Nowadays, both film and videotape have mostly given way to all digital production technologies. And yet the terms continue to exist. If you get tickets to watch a program that uses a live studio audience, you will be going to a taping. Chances are, though, there's no tape involved. You might hear David Letterman say "we have a videotape of Toronto mayor Rob Ford...". There's no tape, it's a video recording. "Get it on tape" is still a thing, though again there's no tape involved.
Justin Bieber. Damn, I should just avoid that. Anyway, the celebrity tracking website TMZ now has clips from a Bieber deposition regarding one of the many legal situations this
whiny self-centered brat young man is involved in. I'm not going to link to it. A lawyer advises Bieber to "look at the film", referring to a video clip playing on a monitor in the room. Bieber sarcastically, and repeatedly, wants to know "what film?", on the technicality that it's not really film, it's a video clip.
And so it goes.
Once again, the technology behind recording sound and images has changed several times over the years, but this time the terminology, what we call that technology, lives on. For some.
I grew up listening to records. Round pieces of vinyl, with grooves. A
record player turntable would spin the record at a particular speed, and the needle stylus, reacting to bumps in the groove, would cause an electrical signal to be generated that would be processed into sound. The good old days.
There were three essential record formats, named after the the rotation speed during playback, in revolutions per minute (RPM): 78, 45, 33 1/3. 78's were the oldest, and heaviest, and poorest quality of the formats. 45's were designed for single song distribution, a.k.a. singles. Being two-sided, the "A" side was usually the primary recording being sold by the artist and studio. The "B" side would be a song normally destined to be not as popular. 33 1/3 records were LP's, or Long Play, full albums with multiple songs on both sides.
Early on in the HBO movie Spector, about the murder trial of legendary record producer Phil Spector, a young lawyer is asked "what is this?". The questioning lawyer is holding up a small peculiar-shaped piece of plastic. The younger lawyer had no idea what it was; the older one figured that this lack of knowledge might make the younger one unsuitable for the case. If you are my age, you immediately recognized it as a 45 adapter. 45's had a larger hole in the center than LP's. Once the LP era had arrived, most record players manufactured had a smaller spindle to accommodate the smaller LP hole. The adapter would snap into the center hole of a 45, and reduce the effective size at the center to match that of the LP. (You would still, of course, have to switch the player's speed manually for proper playback).
Artists still make what they call records. Though many record an album, or a song, or make a video, with the song being a subset of the video production. They aren't actual records any more.
Physical records still exist and are traded among traditionalists and collectors. There are even some new vinyl pressings being made, in limited quantities, though not for the mass market.
Do you still dial a number when you call someone? That's still a popular term, even though dial phones have gone the way of the dinosaurs.
Dial, or rotary, phones were all we had back in the day. You put your finger in the hole corresponding to a digit, dialled it around to a stop position, then let go. The pulses emitted by the dial along the way were transmitted by physical wire to a local exchange, and into the bowels of the phone company's switching system.
Along came touch-tone phones, which simplified a lot of things. These became popular with hackers, who would mimic the signature tones of each digit (and pound and star) to spoof their way into the phone control systems, often with the goal of making free long-distance calls.
Now, there are no more dials. But we still dial numbers.