The first public phones in Los Angeles, 1899


Seen at /r/HistoryPorn, additional information from Retronaut.

“228 So. Spring St.. The first telephone line between San Francisco and Los Angeles had just been opened, and long distance calls to the Bay City were being stimulated. The young man, Roy E. Jillson, was messenger boy then and was still an employee of the telephone company in 1934.”

Depending on which inflation calculator you use, 50¢ turns out to be hideously expensive for 1899. $13.78 per minute… that would basically mean you didn’t want to call San Francisco unless it were a matter of life or death.

For the curious, here’s what the area looks like right now:


It’s a neighbor to the LA Times building.

The Old Wolf has spoken.

Tape Storage, 1977


Found in Texas Monthly, 1977 Vol. 5, No. 11

This advertisement for Maxell media displays four very common tape formats from the 70s:  clockwise from top, studio tape [1], 8-track tape, reel-to-reel tape, and cassette. Digital storage has, for all intents and purposes, obsoleted all of these. That said, some companies still offer tape backup solutions for companies which are looking for certain advantages.

For the most part, however, this is a forgotten technology among the young people of today, an entire generation of whom have never lived in a time when the Internet didn’t exist.


If you’re one of those youngsters and wonder, that pencil would come in really handy if you ever encountered a cassete that looked like this:


… which would happen with more frequency than you might wish, if your player was on the fritz.

Having grown up in the 50’s and 60’s, reel-to-reel was all I knew as a child; when the Tinico tape recorder [2] was introduced, I coveted one of these with a white-hot passion. It was one of the few things I begged for as a kid that I never got.


You can see this one in action, playing a speech by John F. Kennedy, at YouTube.

What I did get much later, as an adult, was the smallest Sony Walkman ever produced. It was designed to be exactly the size of a tape cassette in its case when closed  – the lid would slide down about half an inch to accomodate a cassette:


Walkman, closed


Walkman, open.


Size comparison

I still have mine  in a drawer – time has taken its toll and it no longer works, but I got a lot of use out of it and it’s still fun to hold. It was manufactured, I think, as more of a novelty than a truly useful device, because the ultra-miniaturization of all the components meant elevated fragility as well.

It’s interesting to have some historical perspective on audio and computer media. As usual, it makes me wonder with insatiable curiosity what my granddaughters will have seen by the time they are my age.

The Old Wolf has spoken.

[1] I had originally called this computer tape; thanks to Salvador Virgen for pointing out that it was indeed something else, which I verified with an image search.

[2] The referenced article compares the Tinico recorder with a Soviet copy. I remember a joke my mother telling me back in the 60’s, which she in turn heard from a Russian emigrée friend of hers; it concerned a Soviet diplomat being given a tour of a technology display, and at every stop the Russian would say, “Oh, da – Russians invented that.” Finally he was handed an audio cassette, and he said, “Oh, da! Russians invented that! What is it?”

Selfie, 1920 Version.

One of the earliest selfies, taken by principals of the Byron Company, in 1920.


Byron Company:  Uncle Joe Byron, Pirie MacDonald, Colonel Marceau, Pop Core, Ben Falk-New York, 1920. Museum of the City of New York.

How the photo was taken:


Byron Company, Side view of Byron Co. photographers posing together for a photograph on the roof of Marceau’s Studio, 1920. Museum of the City of New York

More information can be found at the Museum of the City of New York.

The Old Wolf has spoken.

Look Magazine: The first mass-produced 3D Picture

The magazines LIFE and LOOK were regular guests in our home, along with the New Yorker, the Saturday Evening Post, and a few other esoteric offerings. At one point in the 1960s, LOOK began including small postcard-sized attachments in the back of their magazine – mass produced parallax panoramagrams, or 3D pictures; the one you see below was the first.



The principle was very similar to the “wiggle pictures” one still occasionally sees today on toys and games – I remember being delighted with the little ones I found in Cracker Jack boxes in the 50s (before their prizes went to hell in a handbasket); the idea is to present a different image to the eyes as the ridged surface is rotated and refracts the underlying picture differently. In this case, however, the image is engineered to present a slightly different parallax to each eye at the same time.

TIME magazine had the following writeup about this innovation:

“A LOOK FIRST: 3-D PHOTO,” proclaimed the message on the cover. The Parallax Panoramagram “may mark the beginning of a new era in graphic-arts,” said the press release. As it turned out, Look’sfirst ran almost last in the magazine. On page 105, just short of the back cover, persevering readers found a stiff, postcard-size appendage, attached in the manner of a subscription renewal card. On the card was a black and white picture that showed a bust of Thomas Alva Edison surround ed by some half-dozen of his inventions. What made most readers stop and look twice was the picture’s distinct illusion of depth.
Look’s stunt, the result of 13 years’ research, constitutes the latest effort to translate the real world of three dimensions into the picture world of two. Artists have employed trompe I’oeil three-dimensional techniques for centuries. But true success for photographers awaited the invention of the stereopticon camera in the 19th century, which took two pictures of the same subject through lenses that were separated like a pair of human eyes. When the viewer saw each picture separately, through separate lenses, his brain automatically supplied the missing dimension of depth.
The Look process is almost identical. A specially designed camera takes pictures through a transparent screen that is serrated to break up the image into hair-thin vertical slices. The camera is then moved slightly to the right or left, as other, sliced-up pictures are taken on the same negative.
The process is laborious, costly and slow, and not yet adaptable to highspeed printing. Merely to pose the static picture in last week’s Look took two full days of work with a one-ton, cubical camera as complicated as an electronic computer. Five additional weeks were required to engrave the photograph, print it some 7,000,000 times on a sheet-fed offset press and then pour on and properly shape the clear plastic film that covers the picture with what amounts to a collection of lenses. The plastic lenses are so arranged that the viewer’s left eye sees one of the serrated pictures, the right eye sees the other (see diagram).
Look and its partners in the enterprise, Eastman Kodak Co. and Harris-Intertype Corp., which built the equipment that adds the plastic lens coat, have high hopes of commercial success. Cowles Magazines & Broadcasting, Inc., Look’s parent company, plans to establish a separate corporation, to be called Visual Panographics Inc., to sell its 3-D process to greeting-card manufacturers, display-art companies and anyone else willing to pay the price in money and time for an unspectacled illusion of depth. TIME Magazine

A much more detailed treatment of these images can be found over at Tattered and Lost.

An interesting bit of history, this was. It was impressive enough to me that  I’ve had it in my files for over half a century.

The Old Wolf has spoken.

Wind power? I’m a big fan. But not as big as this one.

Berlin’s Godzilla-size windmills, 1932




“Berlin rests in the shadow of a monstrously tall steel tower with a hydra head of spinning fans, each about 500 feet in diameter. A medium-sized town’s population climbs over the 1,400-foot-high structure, noshing in a cavernous cafeteria and peering off a cloud-shrouded viewing deck. The city is aglow with great gouts of energy pouring out of the windmill – as much as 130,000,000 kilowatt hours a year – illuminating the anguished faces of once-profitable oil barons now crying into their beer.

This was the ambitious 1930s-era vision of Hermann Honnef, a German engineer with a lifelong obsession with high towers and wind power.”

Found this interesting bit over at The Atlantic – Cities – click through for the full article.

On the other end of the scale, scientists are working on windmills so tiny that 10 of them could fit on a grain of rice, with a view toward using such small devices to recharge cell phones and such.



More on the idea can be read at The Verge.

While some ideas are phantasmagorical and others are yet futuristic, thinking out of the box and along these lines is both admirable and necessary. Anything we can do to get the oil industry crying into their beer steins is a good thing.

The Old Wolf has spoken.

Memory Lane: Laser Printers and Other Ephemera

(Cross-posted from Livejournal)

Laser printers have come along way. These days you can buy one for almost nothing, and avoiding the manufacturer’s scam by having your cartridges refilled makes using them pretty cost-effective.

The first laser printer I ever saw was the size of a small web press, used by the State of Washington in 1980 to print its payroll checks. The next one I encountered had shrunk considerably:


This is actually the Xerox version of the Wang LPS-12 (or LIS-24) laser printer, which would manage 12 or 24 pages per minute. We had several of them in the Translation Department of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, and they got heavy use because we were able to dive into the font files and character mapping tables and tweak the characters to customize Wang’s OIS system for 116 languages instead of the 16 supported ones. I recall loading these onto hand trucks and moving them from office to office occasionally, as we had one physical location that for security purposes could not be connected to the outside world. Toner was loaded in bulk from large gallon bottles, and could be supremely messy.

After decades of searching, the Internet finally disgorged this cartoon, seen in the November 15, 1988 issue of PC Magazine:

Laser Printer Mr. Bond

The same printer in its original incarnation was also used with our Xerox Star 8010 system and its successor, the 6085.


This system was the result of research at the Palo Alto Research Center (PARC), and had Xerox been as good at marketing as Steve Jobs, we might be using Xerox iMacs today. You can see the GUI elements, graphic capability and multilingual fonts that the Macintosh was so successful at popularizing, here being used years before the Macintosh hit the market.

Going even farther back, I was reminded of the first electronic calculator I laid hands on in 1968, the Wang 320SE. It had four nixie-tube terminals connected to a central processing unit, and I remember prominent instructions on each terminal never to do bad things like dividing by zero or setting up any trig function that resulted in an undefined result, because it would crash the CPU and take 3 hours to reboot, or some such nonsense.


Sheesh. My Droid may have more computing power than the room-sized Univac 1108 I learned to write Fortran code on in 1969.


Memories. They’re interesting to look back at, but I would never want to return to that level of technology.
The Old Wolf has spoken.

Plexiglass Pontiac, 1939

I’ve posted pictures from World’s Fairs before; you can see some taken by my uncle (go ndéanai Día trocaire air) of the 1939 exhibition.

The plexiglass Pontiac “Ghost Car” was proudly exhibited at the General Motors Highways and Horizons pavilion; it was built on the chassis of a 1939 Pontiac Deluxe Six. It was a collaborative effort with Rohm & Haas, the developers of plexiglass. It is the only one ever built in the United States.



You can see a whole raft of additional superb photos at Twisted Sifter.

The see-through sedan was sold at RM Auctions’ St. John’s auction in Michigan on July 30, 2011, for $308,000.

What a lovely piece of memorabilia.

The Old Wolf has spoken.

What’s new in electronics (1979)

Reblogged from Modern Mechanix.




Digital voice
When this phone-answering machine talks to you, the voice you hear—up to 24 seconds of it—has been stored in a digital memory, not on a prerecorded tape. The technique makes the unit simpler, more compact. Maker: DFG, 3550 Marburg, Frauenbergstr. 35, Germany.
Day/night light
The Sensor Lite never needs to be switched on or off. A built-in light sensor does that by detecting the amount of ambient light in the room. The night light is designed for hallways, stairwells, or nurseries. It’s in local Sears stores for $5.49.

8-track VHF
Plug this cartridge into your 8-track and you’ve converted it from a tape player to a public-service receiver that scans up to four VHF high I low bands for police, fire, and other PS transmissions. Bearcat, made by Electra Co., 300 E. County Line Rd., Cumberland, Ind., is $99.95.

PET add-in
Install the circuit board (inset) into your PET computer and it becomes a spectrum analyzer. Check the frequency response of your stereo, for example, from 20 Hz up to 20 kHz in 31 third-octave bands. $595. Eventide Clockworks, 265 W. 54th St., New York, N.Y. 10019.

Pocket computer
It’s not a scientific calculator with attachments—it’s a portable computer, complete with alphanumeric readout. HP- 41C from Hewlett Packard accepts 400 lines of programming (2000, with plug-in memory), works with thermal printer and magnetic-card reader. Basic price: $295.

Super security
Add Comp-U-Lock to your door and you’d better remember the right combination to get in—there are 10,000 possibilities. The electronic system accepts four levels of security, to let in only those you wish, when you wish. ESP Systems, 28189 Kehrig Dr., Mt. Clemens, Mich. 48045; $129.95.

Ms fnd in a lbry… real-time

I previously posted about Hal Draper’s delightful mathematical science-fiction story – the only one he ever wrote – about the challenges of storing and indexing data in ever smaller spaces, requiring ever-larger retrieval indices. But back in 1966, librarians were taking stock of their growing inventories of information, and turning to computers to lend a helping hand… uh, transistor.


1966. “To the rescue. Many librarians believe computers are the only means to effectively cope with their bulging bookshelves.” New York World-Telegram and Sun Newspaper Photograph Collection, Library of Congress. Found at Shorpy.

This photo was taken three years before I took my first FORTRAN class, on a Univac 1108. The advances I have seen in technology in my lifetime rival what my grandparents experienced moving from horse-and-buggy days to the advent of commercial jets, from radio to television. My smartphone has more processing power than the IBM 370/138 I worked on as a graduate student; I always wonder with white-hot curiosity what my grandchildren will be experiencing.

The Old Wolf has spoken.