Fire up the Reel to Reel

The more things change, the more they stay the same.

Reading Mike’s short post today about his jury duty tomorrow and his plans to build a lens adapter for his camera, I found myself thinking about my grandfather for a little while.  Let me explain:  my Dad’s father was what we would now call an “early adopter” of technology.  He did television repair work before most people owned them;  he had camera equipment capable of taking and projecting colour home movies in the 40’s, and he was very proud of his Hi-Fi stereo system – much of which was home built.  I don’t know if it’s nature or nurture, but my father, my brothers and I have all followed along a similar path:  much to the chagrin of our various significant others, our respective homes are filled with equipment that needs to be plugged in;  that beeps, whirrs, flashes and hums;  and most of all, that is connected to other such devices by wires.  Though the tech is different, the thrill is no doubt the same;  looking back on it now, I can revel in my grandfather’s geekdom much as I revel in my own.

I think the reason this thought occurred to me following my visit to Mike’s page is that I suddenly saw the similarities between my own daily virtual journey into Mike’s life via the Internet and what my grandfather used to do:  he used to basically record voice letters on reel to reel audio tape and send them by mail (the kind with stamps and dog-fearing letter carriers) to a friend in Australia, if I remember correctly.  They corresponded in this fashion for years.  I can remember him carefully unwrapping a box containing a fresh tape and eagerly heading downstairs to his basement sanctuary, then sitting in a beat-up old reclining chair,  bottle of beer on the TV dinner table next to it, listening to the voice coming out of the speakers as the reels rolled steadily on.  When I was a kid, I thought it was kind of quirky – none of the other grownups I knew spent time recording their thoughts on tape and mailing them halfway across the world – but I was more focussed on the microphones and the reel-to-reel machines (shiny tech!) than on what was going on.  I guess I kind of half-heartedly wondered what he and his friend could possibly think of to talk about – complete strangers so far removed from each other by geography and circumstance, engaged in a series of alternating monologues.

See the parallels yet?

My grandfather didn’t live long enough to see the emergence and prevalence of personal computers in the home, but he would have loved the technology and the community of technophiles for which it provides a home.   I wish I’d had a chance to talk with him about it, as I’m sure he would have had some interesting thoughts to offer.  The only thing missing for me, as I sit here with the notebook computer on my lap and the wireless card granting me access to the router upstairs  and ultimately the Intartubes,  sharing this little corner of my life with Mike (and anyone else who cares to read), is the bottle of beer.  I can remedy that lickety-split;  as soon as I hit “publish” on this entry, I’m going to head to the fridge, grab a cold Alexander Keith’s, crack it open and drink a toast to grandpa.

In the meantime, Mike, I hope you manage to avoid getting selected, but I’m very interested to hear what your thoughts are about going through the jury selection process.  And this lens adapter thing is also intriguing to me;  I must know more…

By junior

Guitar owner and silly person.


  1. I won’t go into detail about the depths of despair our spare bedroom sends theVet into (amongst other things, it’s home to a home-made “SuperGun” which is an adapter, of sorts, for arcade boards. This I built out of a junked PC/AT-style machine so that I could fulfill my dreams of having an arcade-perfect Metal Slug on the (relative) cheap — there was a home conversion, but it’s rare, and that cartridge will run you well into the four figures. The arcade cartridge, on the other hand, is cheap and plentiful.) as it’s full of needlessly complicated gadgetry.

    Lens adapter is pretty simple: instead of using the lens built onto a camera, you could project the image from a 35mm-class lens onto a translucent screen and then use the lens built into the camera to capture that image. It’s kludgey, but supposedly gives good results.

  2. He also had a “tape pal” in Glasgow who offered to take any taped messages over to his sister and mother’s place in Renfrew and then record a reply from them. They did this about twice a year maybe. “Tape Pals” were the hi-tech successor of that time to “Pen Pals”. I still have one of his Reel to Reel players if you would like it.

  3. Personally, I find it interesting that you should write about these memories you have of Grandpa. I had written some very similar thoughts as part of my Thesis back in 1997 and recalled very similarly the unwrapping and listening process. By the way, I just got rid of 3 Reel to Reels that I purchased that year and used as part of that Thesis presentation.
    Now, flash forward 35 years or so and think how quaint this whole innerwebs thingy is going to be then… what will they be using? Will THEY finally have flying cars?

  4. I remember life on the internet being a simpler time, ten years ago — if that makes me sound like the Laura Ingalls Wilder of today, so be it.

    I’ve always wanted to write, and after running across John MacDonald’s introduction to Stephen King’s Night Shift I knew what I had to do about it:

    “I am often given the big smiling handshake at parties (which I avoid attending whenever possible) by someone who then, with an air of gleeful conspiracy, will say, ‘You know, I’ve always wanted to write.’

    I used to try to be polite.

    These days I reply with the same jubilant excitement: ‘You know, I’ve always wanted to be a brain surgeon.’

    They look puzzled. It doesn’t matter. There are a lot of puzzled people wandering around lately.”

    I’ve been writing — chronicling, if you will — since 1989 in some form or another; what I’ve noticed is that the more I write, the more clearly I can express my ideas. Yet I still know I have thousands of miles to go; in our junior year of high school, the English teacher did what I think was a very smart thing: in response to the question of who she thought was the best writer in class, she wouldn’t say, but did remark that there was one person she was suitably impressed with, leaving it free for everyone to speculate on who it was; for me I always believed it was my eponymous J-, who honed the craft through multiple correspondents and a startling command of the dictionary.

    But along the way I discovered there were other folks out there who shared common interests (photography, Nikon F, hockey, what have you) and that the things I liked to read about — personal accounts — were becoming rapidly popular, even trendy. Thus to be told that I am reminiscent of family — I can think of no greater compliment. Thank you. I am humbled.

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