Wednesday, March 24, 2010

More on "Vintage" Technology

Lately we've been conducting an appreciation of the "obsolete" technologies of earlier eras. I've often noted the unfortunate fact that the "guts" of modern electronic technology are so microscopic that their physical function is no longer visible. The air-driven pipe organ mentioned in an earlier entry will provide contrast to modern electronic instruments in which micro-electronics have replaced large-scale physically functional components that tell obvious stories about how an instrument operates. My desire with that project is to call attention to the elegant simplicity of such instruments as they existed for hundreds of years previous to the modern era.

The telephone system is another technological artifact whose operating components have become invisible. Previous to our electronic era, this was not the case. The basic switching component of the phone system, before our contemporary push-button dialing appeared on the scene, was a special relay, which you can see pictured above. This device will appear in a future exhibit at Mindport. Don't hold your breath on this, however, because I still have two or three months to go before the pipe organ will be complete and ready for our growing gallery of musical instruments.

My thanks to our Exhibit Manager, Bill Lee, for chasing down this telephone relay, and a second unit of a different style that will also find its way into the new exhibit as we presently envision it.

-Kevin Jones

Friday, March 12, 2010

What's Been Happening at MP (Lately)

Looking over our introduction to this blog, I realized that we promised to keep readers apprised of what’s happening at MP “right now.”  In practice, this has turned out to be primarily keeping readers apprised of some of what we’re reading and thinking “right now,” so this week I’ll turn my attention to less strictly cerebral goings on.  Here’s the rundown of the last week or so.  

Last Friday Mindport housed “Speak Easy 3,” an evening of poetry organized and hosted by Luther Allen.  Five regional poets, Susan J. Erickson, Kari Galbraith, Christine Kendall, David M. Laws, and Oliver de la Paz read selections from their work to a full – and appreciative - house.  Look for “Speak Easy 4” in late spring or early summer. 

The Underwood typewriter is back on the floor after receiving a resurfaced platen (otherwise known as the roller) from a company in Pennsylvania.  The platen provides a backing for the type as it hits the paper.  If the rubber around the platen becomes hard and brittle, then the type doesn’t hit the paper in a consistent manner, resulting in uneven print.  Our free Underwood typewriter (courtesy of the alley) now has a price tag of $95 (not counting the labor hours it took to restore it), but everything typed on it looks a lot better. 

Our director, Kevin, is busy building the last five of 32 organ pipes for our pipe organ exhibit.  Once he’s done with the pipes, he’ll be turning his attention to creating a keyboard and windchest.  He says to look for this exhibit in about three months or so.  In the meantime, he’s been trying out the “Drawdio,” a clever device designed by MIT students that measures the resistance of a line of carbon as you draw and translates that resistance to sound.  Unfortunately the Drawdio seems to be sensitive to humidity and has a few other quirks that make it impractical for Mindport. 

Another addition to the Mindport musical menagerie should be out on the floor much sooner than the pipe organ.  AnMorgan is just putting the finishing touches on a table for our new autoharp.  After months of trying to restore a very, very antique -to put it kindly- autoharp, we gave up and found a newer one.  I’m looking forward to having this instrument on the floor for patrons to try, although I will miss the impromptu renditions of popular songs given by Mindport staff.  You really can do quite a bit with three chords and limited inhibitions. 

Music must be on the brain these days.  Exhibits Manager Bill Lee and Public Relations person Karen Weber have been working on finding a way to turn a single piano key mechanism that’s been hanging out here for about three years into an exhibit.  So far they have a gong made out of an old mechanical back-up alarm taken off a truck, the piano key, and a claw.  I have total confidence that these three pieces will make beautiful music together (har).   

I think those are probably the highlights.  We’re also making our usual rounds, cleaning fish tanks, trouble-shooting light fixtures, emptying the recycling, and fixing pieces of exhibits that have succumbed to slightly too vigorous declarations of affection.   I’ll keep continue to keep you posted as to what’s new and exciting. 

Until next time,


Saturday, March 6, 2010

The Seductive Screen

I'm reading The Dumbest Generation: How the Digital Age Stupefies Young Americans and Jeopardizes Our Future, by Mark Bauerlein. Oh, I can hear the screams of anguish over that title from digital age apologists. I won't argue the author's arguments here. I'd rather you read this book and decide the truth for yourself. If you're a parent it may open your eyes to a few myths prevalent in our society and cause you to question what your youngsters are doing with their time.

Even as someone who has been passionately interested in science and electronic technology from the age of seven, I've come to harbor serious doubts about the direction they're taking us. . . ( read more )

On the other hand, if you're not up for anything more than that teaser just now, please do register the following recommendation as an antidote to the message of Mark Bauerline's book: Mindport's around-the-corner neighbor, The American Museum of Radio and Electricity, offers excellent alternatives to excess screen time for people of all ages (as do we!). Check out their SPARK program and their ham radio classes . They're two possible ways to moderate the screen habit and engage technology more creatively.

-Kevin Jones
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