Geek Nostalgia Gallery
(Last updated February 25, 2019)
Here are some views of hardware from yesteryear. I have limited the selection to pieces of hardware that I have used in the past, including, some I still have. The years indicated in parentheses are the periods when I owned or used these items.
Click any graphic for a larger display.
J-38 Signal Corps Straight Telegraph Key (1953 to 1957)
This is the first telegraph key I used as an amateur radio operator, starting when I was in the fourth grade in New Rochelle, New York. At the time, these were plentiful on Canal Street in Manhattan, which was lined with shops selling all varieties of WW2 electronic surplus equipment.
After a few years using this "straight key," I graduated to a Vibroplex Bug, which, by using a flexing element that vibrated, eliminated the need to make dots individually, since all you needed to do was hold press the paddle to the right and release with a timing that allowed it to vibrate just the right number of times for the number of dots you wanted to send.
National Radio NC-98 Communications Receiver (for two years starting in 1955 or 1956)
I got my first amateur radio license when I was 10 years old, in 1955. This photo is from a larger photo of my ham shack, taken in 1956 or 1957. The NC-98, coupled with a Globe Chief transmitter, was my first receiver and transmitter, which served me during my year with a Novice amateur radio license. The NC-98 had what were referred to as slide rule frequency dials, with cursors driven by two round tuning knobs.
No matter how many years have past since owning this receiver, it still has an aura that cannot be matched by a much more sophisticated receiver I have now (that is collecting dust in my office).
ASR 33 Teletype (1971 to 1976)When I was working at Western Electric's Engineering Research Center in Princeton, NJ, the ASR 33 was our workhorse computer output device. We also had a storage-screen terminal made by Tektronix, the oscilloscope manufacturer, but this was the main output device. The ASR 33 was painfully slow by today's standards, but was used by some to play computer games. One was a Startrek game that, after firing weapons, painfully printed out the next situation as you waited while the terminal clickety-clacked away. For communicating with people in other Bell System laboratories, we had an acoustic coupler, onto which we rested an analog telephone headset. The ASR 33 was used to communicate with the PDP10 timesharing system. If you needed to use the IBM 360, the output printer would be either a huge line printer or a Selectric typewriter device.
Those were the days.
Japanese-Made Nikkor Lens (50mm/F1.4 Auto Nikkor SC) (2010 to present)This lens was manufactured before the Ai series of lenses appeared. I purchased it in Osaka one time and had it modified to fit on my Nikon D810. It is super heavy and has that wondrous heavy feel of lenses from the days when men were men and lenses were lenses. These days, Nikon lenses are mostly made in Vietnam or China. They are much lighter, of course, and on a light body a lens like the one shown here would not be a good match in terms of balance. For the up-market models, however, these old lenses, performance aside, are not a problem.
Vacuum Tube Communications Receivers (Collins R390A) (1966 to 1969 in the US Navy)This was one of the main receivers I used in the USN during the 1960s, when I was listening to enemy communications (hint: I was a Russian linguist). The inside of the R-390A was a wonderland of gears, cams, and coils with cores that were moved up and down therein.
The R-390A is extremely heavy. I cannot provide a precise weight, but I can attest to the weight from my experience. One time in the Indian Ocean (on the John R. Perry, DE 1034), we took a serious roll to port. Facing my R390A, I instinctively (but stupidly) grabbed onto the rack handles to avoid falling over backwards. What I did was pull the receiver out of the rack onto me. The resulting scene, with me on the deck, flailing my arms and legs with the R-390A on my chest, was something to see. Drawings are from HAM Journal No. 103, Summer 2003 Issue.
IBM Selectric Typewriter (1976 to 1984)
I had two Selectrics when I started translating full time around 1979. When the Selectric appeared, it was an amazing machine. When the version with the correction ribbon appeared, many (including the author) thought that this would never be surpassed as a tool for creating typed documents. We were very innocent.
The next generation of high-tech printer was a daisy-wheel printer. With both the daisy-wheel printer and the Selectric, if a special character such as a Greek letter was embedded in an English document being printed out, the printer would stop when it encountered that character, and you had to change either the Selectric golf ball element or the daisy wheel. If you went out to lunch after starting to print a 100-page document, you might come back to find that the process had stalled at page 3 when a single Greek letter was encounted.
Slide Rule (Hemmi Model 34RK)
Until the appearance of affordable multifunction calculators in the early 1970s, the slide rule was the calculation tool of choice of geeks all over the globe. I was 25 in 1970, so I caught the end of the slide rule era, at least in the US.
Japan's slide rule culture was quite amazing, and it persisted for a few years after people were using HP35 or TI-50 calculators in other countries. I have collected slide rules for years, but have recently slimmed down my collection to around 280 slide rules that I really "need."
Hand Counter (1978 to present)
In my early days as a translator in the late 1970s, the only easily available way to count the number of words in an English translation (or characters in a Japanese manuscript, unless they were written "fully packed" into 400-character pages) was to use a hand counter like this. In the translation company I worked at for a very short time, the sound of people counting words was a common soundscape.
Even now, when a Japanese manuscript is not provided as an electronic file and has a complex format (e.g., with lots of drawings bearing text), the counter has been known to be brought to play.