Thursday, June 7, 2012

Behind the Times with Technology


I've been meaning to write about this for a while but have put it off.  I didn't stop and realize it until a year or two ago, but it's becoming obvious now - I'm behind the times.  Why?  The main qualifier is that my most "modern" computer is currently a Dell Inspiron 1501, which my dad purchased for me as a Christmas present in 2006 for almost $700.

Here are specs for this computer:

*1.8 GHz AMD Mobile Sempron processor
*2 GB of RAM (originally 512 MB)
*60 GB HDD (though I have a 500 GB external USB drive)
*Windows XP Media Center Edition 2005 SP2

Even back in 2006, this computer was considered average and nothing particularly impressive, but you know what?  I needed and wanted a "newer" computer (something a little more modern than my 300 MHz Pentium II Windows 98 PACE computer and that could do more - matching or exceeding the performance of my dad's Dell Dimension 4400 from April 2002 (which now belongs to me)).  So I was quite happy that I got this computer.

More than five years have passed, and I'm still happy with this computer.  It still meets pretty much all of my computing needs.  But it has dawned on me recently that not many people are still using PCs from 2006 as their main computers.  And they're not even using Windows XP anymore.  No, most people these days have got these flashy new computers from at least 2008-2010 and are running Windows 7, have dual-core processors, and 4 GB and above of RAM.

And when I realize how new these machines are - and how I'm still using technology that can now be considered fairly outdated, I wonder...what the heck happened!?  Did I miss something?  Why is it that with every new piece of technology that comes out, everyone suddenly buys it and immediately deems the old stuff as obsolete and unusable?  And more importantly, why do people's needs change so much to the point that they have to constantly raise system specifications?  And where in the world do they get money for these things - especially in a poor economy?

Honestly, are people ever going to be satisfied with what they have?  Can they not be grateful for what they have?  I mean, I've been using this same laptop for over five years, it still works perfectly fine, and it still meets my computing needs even though I don't have Windows 7, a dual-core processor, or over 4 GB of RAM.  I just don't get it.  What more do people want from computers?  Isn't Windows XP good enough?  What's so much better about Windows 7 that they have to immediately ditch XP once it comes out?  I'm not saying that Windows 7 doesn't have advantages, but still.

Satisfying My Computing Needs

As of now, my computing needs are pretty much satisfied.  I like being able to do the following on computers:

*Viewing pictures
*Listening to music
*Moving and storing mass quantities of data
*Watching videos of reasonably good quality
*Creating videos and making them viewable on a regular TV

And those are basically the same creative desires I had for computers back when I started using them in the late '90s.  Most of my needs were already satisfied with a Windows 95, 200 MHz Pentium MMX Packard Bell computer (reading, writing, viewing pictures, and listening to music - four out of the seven things I mentioned).  Still, there were a few higher-performance desires that the Windows 95 couldn't fulfill - which were at last satisfied with Windows XP-era technology (or even earlier technology).  And even these last three things are pretty much interrelated.

First of all, even in its heyday, a 3.5" floppy just wasn't that great for moving data.  It was okay for most things, but moving data just wasn't as flexible as it is now.  Even then, you could sometimes have files that were over 1.44 MB, and you'd have no way to move them.  Sure, you could have access to 3 MB files on your computer - or to 700 MB worth of data on a CD-ROM - but no way to move them (unless you were on a network).  And also, you would have to use multiple floppies to store what you wanted.  Now, all you need is one flash drive or one hard drive.  You also have the option of using a CD or DVD burner, which adds more flexibility.  In the early days, there may have been CD-ROM and DVD-ROM drives, but if you wanted to create a video to be played on a regular DVD player, forget it.

Now, there's more flexibility, as you can both read and write data.  You can move almost any quantity of data that's thrown at you, whereas back in the late '90s and early 2000s, you could receive data, but you couldn't move it efficiently.  And guess what?  You can use USB flash drives and hard drives on a mid-2000s Windows XP computer.  Heck, I've even used a flash drive on that same Windows 98 PACE computer I mentioned!  I should also mention that this data-moving desire also applies to downloading files on the internet.  In the days of dial-up, a person would have to wait impatiently several hours for a 20 MB file to finish downloading.  Now, with high-speed internet (perfectly usable on a Windows XP computer, by the way), it's possible to have 2 GB worth of material in under an hour!  So, with Windows XP technology (and earlier), that makes five out of seven of my desires fulfilled.

Then, there was the issue of watching videos.  Sure, there were videos on computers back in the '90s and early 2000s, but they weren't in as good of quality as they were since the mid-2000s or so.  They weren't really the same quality as you'd see on a VHS tape.  Also, regardless of the quality, the issue with viewing videos also ties in with the data-moving issue I mentioned above.  If you had a way to make a video on a computer, you wouldn't have a way to move it to another - or make it viewable on TV unless you had a TV-output jack on your computer.  With the onset of DVD technology, there is enough storage space to view videos in good, sharp quality.  And you can burn movies on a computer to make them viewable on a regular, standalone TV instead of having to watch .AVI files on the computer.  And that right there makes the last two of my seven desires fulfilled.

So, since all of my computing needs were met, have I had a change in standards?  Have I decided that I want more and more performance out of a computer?  For the most part, no.  My basic needs are about the same as they were when I started using computers in the late '90s.  I can easily move mass-quantities of data, I can not only view data on CDs and DVDs, but I can also write data to them - making them playable on regular TVs.  And thanks to DVD, I can also watch videos in reasonably good quality.

So as of now, Windows XP-era computers really have met pretty much all of my computing needs and fixed nearly all computing inconveniences for me, and I really haven't had the need to go higher.  Windows 7 might make my computing experience slightly more smooth and efficient, but anything beyond that, to me, is just excessive and a waste of time.  My needs have been met.  End of story.  I don't need a burning hot 3.0 GHz dual-core processor and 4 GB of RAM just to write a simple 50 KB text document!  And writing stories and journals is a big bulk of what I do on the computer, anyway!

Increasing Demands

Despite the fact that even XP-era technology appears sufficient (to me, anyway), people still don't seem satisfied. They still want more, more, and more!  In regards to video, DVD isn't even good enough for people anymore.  No, they need better quality.  Gee, I thought the DVD picture quality was pretty clear and sharp, what more do you want to see?  The pores on somebody's face?  So people have been starting to use Blu-ray technology.  Gee, it doesn't feel that long ago that I started using DVD and spent a lot of time converting my old VHS tapes to that format, and now, DVD is on its way out?  Last time I checked, DVD quality looked pretty sharp and impressive to me.  Pick a format, and stick with it unless there's something functionally wrong with it!  In the case of VHS tapes, they were prone to getting jammed in a VCR, and you had to fast-forward through everything to get to one scene.  They could also wear out after being played multiple times.  With DVD, you don't have to worry about your media getting jammed, and you can skip instantly to the point of the video you want to see.  And for the most part, you don't have to worry about the picture quality suffering due to multiple playbacks (though you still might need to back up your DVDs every so often, as there is the risk they could fail at some point).

I think another thing that's driving up performance demands in computers is gaming.  Newer games have a lot more graphic detail (supposedly) than older ones and have a lot of other things going on in the background, and thus, require more memory and faster processors.  Just like with DVD, I thought the games were pretty advanced and detailed already.  I mean, as an example, let me briefly mention two games I've played: Tom Clancy's Splinter Cell and Splinter Cell: Chaos Theory.  Chaos Theory had higher PC requirements than the original, but I didn't notice any significant graphical improvement.  The graphics of the first game were perfectly clear and sharp to me, and that game only required a computer with a 1 GHz processor.


Now, I will venture into area of technological "improvements," and that's software.  Actually, this is mainly what I wanted to blog about from the beginning.  The operating system on my main computer is Windows XP Media Center Edition 2005 SP2, and I use Microsoft Office 2000.  Meanwhile, most everyone else runs Windows 7 and has at least Microsoft Office 2007 - but more likely Office 2010.  I've used Office 2010 before, and while it does have a few nice, "fancy" features that would offer a little more convenience, in the overall scheme of things, it doesn't offer me any significant reason to upgrade from Office 2000.  I use Word 2000 to write stories.  It works just fine for me.  I can type, format, and print text just fine.  That's all I need.  I don't need to spend $200 on a program that does essentially the same thing as a program I've already have.  Heck, I might even be okay using Word 97 - or lower, as long as it gets the job done!

Which is another very big issue I want to address - probably the biggest point I'd like to make in this whole entry.  Where in the world do people get the money to buy all this stuff?  I thought the economy was bad, and people were having trouble paying their bills, but somehow, they have the money to own brand-new cars and the latest software, which isn't exactly cheap.

That brings me to yet another point.  Not only do people have the latest software, but it seems they have it installed on several machines!  I thought these days, with product activation, Microsoft only allowed you to install a copy on one computer (at least in the case of operating systems).  How in the world could people afford to spend several hundred dollars worth of software just to put it on two or three computers?  Maybe they got it illegally.  After talking to at least one person about this, that appears not to be the case.  Not only does he have Windows 7 installed on multiple computers, but they're all genuine, legal copies.

I should also mention that people seem to upgrade at a rather rapid rate, too.  It's enough that you broke the bank, spending several hundred (or even thousand) dollars worth of merchandise, but as I've said before, people are upgrading at a rather fast rate.  The minute a new software suite or Windows version comes out (which is often only about two or three years), people go out and buy it (or eventually buy it several months later).  So that's even more money spent - in a relatively short amount of time!

Finally, another big issue with upgrading to modern (Microsoft) software is its lifespan.  Since Microsoft implemented it's precious "activation" feature in the early 2000s, it makes it harder to use its software multiple times - or on multiple computers.  So, if Microsoft one day ever decides not to activate older software anymore, you're outta luck if you want to keep using it.  You have to upgrade (or downgrade).  In the case of my copies of Windows XP, two of my computers have it because they Dells and appear to skip the activation process - and the other computer I have with Windows XP was bought second-hand - and already had the OS installed.  If it weren't for these OEM-installed versions of Windows XP, I might still even be using Windows 98 or 2000!


For a brief moment, I will talk about another area of technology besides computers: phones.  Really, it seems that people are so obsessed with phones these days.  Everyone has a phone (sometimes more than one).  For the record, I have a phone - a TracFone W376g, but it's currently unregistered, and even when it was registered, I rarely had a use for it, other than checking the time or playing a quick game.  Don't get me wrong, I like having it because it can come in handy in emergencies (yes, even if it's deactivated, I can still call for help).  But people these days seem so dependent on their phones it's crazy.

And people complain about how terrible the economy is.  Well, maybe it is, but the last time I checked, you didn't need to spend $45 a month or more on a cell phone service - or buy the latest $200 or $300 phone!  With TracFone, just buy a $20 phone, spend $100 on a year-long minutes card, and you have service for a year.  My friend and I talked about this once, and he said that you tend to get better customer and technical service with the more expensive phones and services.  Maybe, but I don't talk on the phone much at all for it to even matter. I rarely even talk on my landline phone.


By the comments I've made in this entry, it might sound like I hate technology and am an old geezer that resists technology.  Far from it.  I like technology.  Touch-screen phones are pretty cool when you think about them, and new technology can offer a lot of fancy features.  But that's all they are.  Fancy.  I don't have much practical need to upgrade my computers, so I'm perfectly fine with what I have.  Most importantly, buying all this new stuff requires money that I simply don't have - and am surprised everyone else does.  In this entry, it might have sounded like I was a little testy when it came to defending why I still use a lot of older technology.  I think it just comes down to the fact that I don't like that I'm behind the times - and that the hardware and software I use can now be considered obsolete.  I don't understand why people feel they need to constantly upgrade everything before barely giving the old stuff a decent amount of use.  And again, I just fail to see where people get the money to buy all this new stuff at such a fast rate.

One thing I do understand, though, is that technology doesn't last forever.  My laptop is over five years old and could give in at any time, and the same could be said about my Dell Dimension 4400 desktop, which is now over ten years old.  Sooner or later, I plan to buy a new computer - assuming I can get the money for it.  But even then, it's mainly just because the computers themselves don't last forever.

Anyway, that more or less concludes this entry.  One more thing I should also add is that I have a page about a guy who, amazingly, still used Windows 95 as of 2008 (Why I Still Use Windows 95).  The page doesn't appear to be around anymore, but I was still able to see it with in the Internet Archive.  Even though I like Windows 95, there are a number of features I have taken for granted in Windows XP that I wouldn't like to lose.  Still, if this guy did it, it might be worth a try :).

Friday, June 1, 2012

10" General Electric Porta-Color WM202HBW-4

The last TV I'm featuring is a 10" General Electric Porta-Color, Model WM202HBW-4.  I got this TV from my grandmother's house in September 2010.  I don't know when this TV was made, but it was probably between 1973 and 1974.  The main reason I was interested in this TV is because it was another Porta-Color TV, and I discarded my Porta-Color WH35226WD in December 2004, after it suffered from the same problems as my Zenith console (not turning on).  I hadn't seen any Porta-Colors elsewhere, and there were times I felt great nostalgia for my old Porta-Color, so it was either this one or none at all.

I found this TV in my grandmother's closet in November 2003, though I think it used to be in the dining room.  I plugged it in and turned it on but was in for a bit of a scare.  About five seconds afterward, it made a loud popping type noise.  Needless to say, I unplugged that TV and didn't turn it on again for some time.

Fast forward to September 2010, I finally get up the courage to try the TV again, but I take some safety precautions.  I hooked it up to an extension cord and had it turned on in another room.  Also, I recorded the TV turning on for the first time in seven years to see if it made the popping noise.  Sure enough, it did, and I was glad I captured it on video.  Later, I turned the TV on again and wanted to see what would happen if I left it turned on after it made the popping noise.  This time, it didn't even make the popping noise, and when the TV warmed up, the screen glowed green and blue or whatever (I didn't have the TV connected to any cable or antenna).  Since then, I turned the TV on once more when I brought it home (and again, it didn't make a popping noise), but otherwise, I haven't done so.

So, there ya go.  Pretty much all the old TVs in my collection, except for my black and white 5" Living Solutions ATC-032, which I wasn't able to find when taking pictures of these other TVs.  Oh well, maybe another day.

20" Quasar VV2020 and 26" Mitsubishi CS-26EX1

My 20" Quasar VV2020 TV was given to me in January 2008 by my friend.  At the time, I still didn't have a good, reliable bedroom TV (I was using my 25" Sanyo in another room).  Although the TV didn't work and had a shaky picture, I took it anyway (he was planning to throw it out).  Eventually, I got way too annoyed by the TV since the picture shook a lot, and eventually, my friend sold me another TV of his for $40 - an Orion TV1934 (better yet, it actually worked).  Since then, I've kept the Quasar VV2020 around just in case I need a spare TV and in case I needed any spare parts (which I doubt).  Lately, I've actually even thought about getting rid of it, but TV disposal costs money, and I'd rather not have to pay to get rid of it if I don't have to.  Still, we could use the space in the basement.  I thought the TV was kind of ugly-looking anyway.

For information's sake, this TV has a built-in VCR and was manufactured in July 1993.  It's also got handles on the sides to make it easier to lift.

Now, onto the next old TV.  My dad purchased the 26" Mitsubishi CS-26EX1 in June 1993 when his old 19" Sears 564.42440450 TV quit working.  I actually liked this TV quite a bit, as it looked sharp and modern.  It was a pretty good TV, too, and lasted us a good 18 years before finally burning out in June 2011.  Like the Quasar VV2020, I've thought about getting rid of it a few times, but I hate to spend money just to get rid of something.

This TV was manufactured in June 1993 (same time as when my dad bought it).  One thing that's cool about this TV is that it actually has a composite video output jack.  Boy, that thing could have come in handy.

Zenith All-Channel Color Console TV

A few days ago, I made a blog post about my 19" 1984 RCA ColorTrak FKR484WR TV.  Since then, I was inspired to make some blog posts of my other old TVs.  So, for starters, I'll blog about my next favorite old TV - the Zenith All-Channel Color Console TV.

I don't know when this TV was made exactly, but it was likely sometime around 1965 or 1966.  It is apparently Model 8320 and has the 25MC36 chassis.  This is a vacuum tube TV, and one of the things I really like about it is how it's basically a big piece of furniture.  It's also cool in the fact that it's nearly 50 years old!  Now that's vintage!  I also like how the dials light up when you turn the TV on - it looked kind of eerie to me to see those numbers glowing.

The first time I ever really paid attention to this TV was probably around March 2000 when I went to visit my grandparents.  I went to the recreation room in my grandparents' basement and took notice of the old TV.  I turned it on, curious to see if it would work.  While it did make a noise, I didn't see a picture come on the screen, nor did I hear any sound from the speakers, so I just assumed it was broken.

A few years later, in 2002, I turned on the TV - but left it on for a while this time.  Maybe all it needed was a little warming up.  I left the room for about a minute or so.  That's when I started hearing a sound coming from nowhere.  I was a bit startled, not knowing where it came from.  I went back into the recreation room and was pleasantly surprised to find that the console was actually working!  Well, sort of.  The pictures came in kind of funny, but at least it did display some kind of picture.  I was really thrilled that I had "fixed" the TV (of course back then, I didn't know that vacuum tube TVs took a minute to warm up).

A year had passed, and this time, I was especially eager to not only tinker with the console - but also look around at the other TVs in my grandmother's house.  That's because in 2003, I was a really big A/V nerd and was fascinated with TVs, VCRs, DVD players, and so on.  I learned a little bit about how they worked and the different parts they had.  I did use the console a little bit while visiting my grandmother, but I ended up paying more attention to another TV - a Porta-Color WHE5226WD from March 1977.

My attention turned back to the console again later that year when we visited my grandmother for Thanksgiving.  Only this time, things got a bit scary.  I turned the TV on, expecting it to work, but nothing happened.  When I pushed the switch back in (to the off position), I was surprised when it actually started humming, indicating that it was starting.  What was going on?  Why were "on" and "off" mixed up?  I fiddled around with the switch some, but in the process, I yanked the switch off the control panel.  Even though the TV didn't do anything bad, I freaked out, thinking it was about to explode.  I cautiously (but as quickly as I could) went behind the TV and unplugged it.  After that, I was very reluctant to turn the set on again.  I even wrote a note, warning people not to turn it on since the switch was messed up (though I did put the switch back in place).

It was almost seven years later in September 2010 that I finally got around to turning on the TV again.  Part of this was because the last time we visited my grandmother was in November 2004 (a year after the "scary" TV incident), and we hadn't come back to visit her until May 2010 when she was in the hospital.  Even though I hadn't turned on the TV in almost seven years, I was still very reluctant to turn it on.  So, I hooked the TV up to some extension cords and plugged in the set in the hallway (and better yet, there was even a door I could close if I wanted - boy, I'm a coward).  A minute passed, and I peeked from behind the door, and sure enough, the TV still turned on.  I was quick to shut it off, though.

After I got over my initial reluctance with the TV, I decided to conduct an experiment similar to one I planned in November 2003.  I wanted to see the console hooked up to a DVD player!  That would be something - seeing 2000s technology working with '60s technology.  I expected that it would work, and sure enough, it did.  The color didn't work right, though, but as I said, that set had some kind of problem with the color that needed to be fixed, so it probably didn't have anything to do with the DVD player.

By the time my mom and I were ready to head back home, I was so enthralled with the console (and old TVs in general) that I wanted to take it home with me (even though the thing was very bulky and heavy).  It was quite a job getting that huge thing in the pickup truck - I had to lift it just high enough to rest on a hand truck - and then lift it again to center it better.  Then, I had to roll the TV up the back driveway.  Then came the hardest part of all.  I had to walk the TV up the steps to my grandmother's front porch - and then walk it a few more steps until it was where I had parked the truck.  (For the record, the idea here was to use my grandmother's front porch as a kind of loading dock so that the porch floor would be more or less level with the bed of the truck.  Otherwise, it would be almost impossible to get the console into the truck, as it wouldn't be easy to lift that thing high in the air.)  After a while, I finally managed to get that huge thing in the back of the truck.  It was a tiring, exhausting job, but I was happy.  I had always wanted to take that TV back with me (even my grandmother told me around 2003 that I could do whatever I wanted with it), but I never thought it would be possible.

When my mom and I were ready to go home, she found out that I had loaded the TV in the car the night before, and she wasn't particularly pleased with that.  She later said that it was just a piece of junk.  When we got home, I was left with the task of getting that big console out of the truck.  Getting it in the truck at my grandmother's house was at least remotely possible since I could use the front porch as a loading dock, but we didn't have anything at our house that would work, so I had to either create a makeshift ramp or try to lower the TV on the ground.  I still don't know how I did this, but by some miracle, I managed to slowly lower one end of the TV on the ground and then tilt it back on its side.  Then came the easy part (or so I though) - putting it on a dolly and rolling it into the basement.  Moving the TV on the dolly wasn't really that hard, but what was hard was when I put the TV on some cardboard and tried to slide it across the basement floor (the dolly wouldn't fit in some places).  It didn't work as well as I hoped, but eventually, the TV was in place.  I tried turning it on, but to my dismay, it simply wouldn't turn on.  A few days later, I did manage to turn it on, but from that point on, the TV never turned on and off reliably anymore.

Since then, I haven't done much with the TV, though I have tried to turn it on and off a few times.  It rarely comes on, though.  My friend and I sometimes joke that the TV is going to explode, and he'll make a loud, frightening noise that'll send me running out of the room for cover.

Although it's a shame that this TV doesn't seem to work anymore, it's still kind of a neat collector's item, and it brings back many memories for me.  I'm really glad to have it and hope to find a way to fix it someday.