Various things from the friendly and unfriendly frontiers of technology. Matthew Thomas has a rundown of bad blog URLs. I've been quite unhappy with the weekly arrangement I use here for a while – unfortunately I didn't see all the ramifications of that when I first set everything up. As we have, of all things, storage constraints on our web-space, I can't simply store a by-post archive in addition to it.
I had more opportunities to use iChat's audio chat yesterday and today: My brother called me from his modem connection, which actually worked quite well. The delay seemed to be slightly larger than with high-speed-low-latency connections. A few minutes ago, Jean called from a wireless connection at Munich airport. What a nice surprise. We stopped the talking soon, though, as he didn't have any headphones with him.
On the low-tech front: I took my dad's old Canon EF SLR camera with me. My plan is to try doing some black and white photos and making my own prints in our hall's own photo lab. Unfortunately one of the contacts for the batteries is missing and I can't see too much what's going on inside the case. Browsing the web a bit, I found a site containing the service manual for the camera. Looking at it, suggests that even my non-skills might suffice to fix that problem as it is located in the least complex part of the camera. The other option would be to send it in to have it fixed which is supposed to cost around €80, about what people seem to pay on eBay for these cameras.
Looking at the service manual is nice. There are so many little buttons on the camera and such a lot of mechanics on the inside. Lots of things you can do with an almost non-electric device (the batteries are only needed for automatic adjustment to the light-conditions, it'll make photos just fine with manual adjustment). Lots of respect to those engineers who built a machine the workings of which they can explain, allowing other people to understand them. And that still works after 30 years of use. I'd like to see that kind of longevity in modern devices.
My gut feeling is that longevity of things decreased some time in the 80s. What are the oldest pieces of equipment that still work and aren't obsolete? My office phone is from 1971 (insert rant about under-funding of German universities here), it's a bit noisy but it works. Aforementioned camera must be from the mid 1970s. Things 'surviving' from the 1980s in my room come down to Nibbler, my 1987 Mac SE – but I'd put that in the 'obsolete' category. Everything else seems to be from the late 1990s. Perhaps someone who's been around longer and bought more things can comment on this?
The house I own now was my grandparents’ home for 60 or so years before we moved in. We still own a large portion of the furniture they had, and, in general, it’s amazingly well put together. The quality of workmanship even in the basic hardware (like hinges, handles, etc.) is of a very high level. It makes a difference. Even the older lamps and things seem more solidly put together, so that the rotary switches and such don’t wear out like a lot of the newer ones we’ve purchased.
This probably takes my initial point even further. It seems to be true for non-technical items as furniture as well. What about the house itself? The house my grandmother used to live in is 300 years old - and still standing. We had it refurbished to meet modern standards (such as straight walls and ceilings) but the main substance, basically huge slabs of wood, didn’t have to be replaced.
Other items of interest might include clothes: Many suits that look like they’re from the 1960s can be picked up in 2nd hand shops. They look aged but fine. Something that isn’t true about last season’s H & M gimmicks, I dare say.
Or books? They didn’t have crappy DTP in the 1960s and hadn’t yet started thinking that typewritten books are acceptable.
I wonder whether there is any proper data (and explanations) on these phenomena or whether it’s just a matter of perception and paranoia.
Well, one thing that immediately springs to mind is that the really shoddy stuff doesn’t last long enough to be compared with modern goods — only the stuff that was well put together in the first place survives so that we can inspect its workmanship. I can think of a few modern things I have that are extremely well put-together. For example, if you’ve ever owned a Mag-Lite brand flashlight, you’ve probably noticed how solidly constructed they are. The fact is, though, that such an item is an exception. I’ve gone through a succession of exceptionally shoddy inkjet printers lately, which have a knack for falling apart as soon as their warranties are up. By contrast, the old IBM Proprinters (nasty, nasty, but very durable dot matrix printers from the 80’s) we had at an office I worked at a few years ago were built like tanks.
I think my parents got themselves a Maglite when we visited the US for exactly that reason. Are those torches actually modern designs or are they old?
Perhaps it’s more a question of consumer goods, that aren’t decent. Printers used to be ‘pro’ products and are for consumers theses days. Thus the price printed on the label is more important than having a reliable product and a happy customer (add conspiracy theories about evil company cartels at will…)
Another example for this may be watches. Most watches are commodity or fashion items these days. There are zillions of digital watches and ‘Swatch’ watches. They tend to break fairly soon (except for the very cheapest digital watches, perhaps…). On the other hand, ‘proper’ expensive watches seem to last forever. My dad has had the same watch for as long as I can remember.
So perhaps ‘consumerism’ is the bad thing. The only goods you can buy for modest amounts of money are consumer goods. And they tend to suck.
[Not a very elaborate theory at this point, I guess. Sorry for that.]
You’re probably onto something there. A MagLite costs somewhere between $20-$30 [not sure of the current price because the one I’ve got now I’ve had for over 8 years ;) ], whereas generic, disposable flashlights are well under $10, so it’s obvious that they’re not targeting the “price over everything” general consumer.
The “MagLite costs 5x as much but lasts 10x as long” situation is known in some circles as “The Captain Samuel Vimes “Boots” Theory of Socio-Economic Unfairness”.
Y’see, if you can only afford $10 for a pair of boots, you’ll get a pair that will last a year. Then you’ll get another pair, and so on. Ten years later, you’ve spent $100 and your feet are wet.
If, however, you have $50 for a pair of boots, you can buy a pair that will last ten years…so you wind up spending less money over time, and your feet are dry.
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