09:55 AM

Analog Treasures - Celebrating The Relics Of The Recent Past

In today's digital world there is very little said about analog devices, yet we often forget that these were once high performance technologies that could only be matched fairly recently by digital electronics. Here are some examples curated by Intel staff.

By Intel Free Press

Inside Intel, there are thousands of engineers, fab technicians and chip designers hard at work delivering the technologies that power today's digital world. Ironically, for a company that manufactures the world's most complex silicon devices in increasingly smaller and smaller dimensions, many in the company yearn for a far more analog past -- the days of LP records, tubes, wires, knobs and even "talking face-to-face."

Non-digital music, in particular vinyl records, has an ardent fan base.

"Lovely warm, crackly analog vinyl sound," said Julie Hobus. "And the album covers and detailed liner notes that went with it."

While many LP lovers still buy and the support the format, today's generation needs some new clichés. "The other day I told my daughter that she sounded like a broken record," said Laura Rumbel, "and realized that she had no idea what I was referring to!"

"35mm film: Can you believe you trusted your precious memories to such low-quality storage media?" said one Intel employee, sparking a barrage of disagreement.

"Hey, 35mm film may have its faults, but it's certainly not a low-quality storage medium!" said Michael Antos. "Properly stored, you can make prints from a negative shot 60-plus years ago and have it look nearly perfect. I have both types of cameras, but I much prefer my 35mm Canon Rebel."

"I loved 35mm black and white photographic film, and still do," agreed Ellen Weadock. "Processing it manually was a real adventure."

Console stereos and TVs, are the relics of Cecil Walker's past. "As furniture, looks were more important than how good they looked and sounded," he said.

Oh, for the pre-WiDi days of knobs, bunny ears, roof antennas, corded remote controls and vacuum tubes.

TVs even required maintenance. David Rice remembered "testing vacuum tubes at the grocery store to fix the black and white TV ... then proudly showing Mom and Dad that I could fix the TV in time for the news at dinner time."

A company of engineers could never forget the trusted slide rule, preferably made by Keuffel and Esser, as the first real pocket calculator.

Claire Pirtle found her trusty rule "at my parent's house last year. I gave it to my nephew who is an engineering student at Rutgers."

Richard Meyer's "grandkids try to make it work. It was used to send men to the Moon."

"I was required to use a slide rule instead of a calculator during my freshman year in college," recalled Steven Nahas. "I think the following year, freshmen were allowed to use calculators."

The nearly extinct carburetor -- outside NASCAR, motorcycles, and old hot rods -- drew both fond and painful memories.

"My children will never know the pleasure of flooding an engine or using a screwdriver to hold open the choke valve in minus 20 degree weather," said Andrew Thomas.

Christopher Reepmeyer remembered his dad's 1987 Ford pickup, which "took 30 seconds to get it to fire and it would stall right away when you put the 3-speed automatic in drive."

"All the passion and character are gone from modern cars," he added.

Thaddeus Podrazik was more explicit: "Carburetors! Not!"

Prior to death by PowerPoint and the quest for Inbox zero, people sent paper memos, kept contacts in Rolodexes and printed presentations on transparencies.

At least PowerPoint removes one point of failure: "I always had printer issues while trying to print out a lot of transparencies right before a meeting where I had to present," said Robert Morris.

Guy AlLee had the solution: "Cutting out colored gels to make filled line graphs on transparencies by hand for the boss to use at a public conference on an overhead projector."

Intel employees could likely staff and build a second computer history museum, with everything from typewriters to consumer transistors to the first personal computers. But it was the punch card, used to save and transfer software programs, that left a mark.

Woojong Han was hurrying his stack of cards to the "computer room" at his college. "I had to cross the lawn to the building and lost balance for a second or two ... all cards were on the ground!" Ouch.

Reza Nassib called punch cards "not my favorite thing at all."

"My senior year in college I had to write a Pascal compiler using punch cards. Very painful trying to keep those babies in the right sequence and the right shoe box!"

But even as the "relic cycle" goes faster, old tech can make great teaching tools, suggested Jim St. Leger.

"My personal experience has been that when my son discovers the skills required to take a 35mm film photo on an old SLR, having to set the F-stop, select a shutter speed, hold the no-stabilization camera steady, take the film to a dark room, mix up some chemicals, expose some light through some celluloid film onto a paper, and, voila, he has a much greater appreciation for what a digital camera can do."

"There's something to be said for learnings from analog systems," he added, "even if you then just move to the digital modern-day equivalent."