Antique Bytes

Do you remember the days when computers were as big as London buses? When the Rolling stones were still under 25? Programs were written on punched cards and fed into huge card readers. If you accessed one it was typically through a 'teletype' using what was known as timesharing. Core memory was typically ferrite core for each bit so memory was very limited. Hard disks and magnetic tape drives were the size of industrial washing machines.
By the early 80s the desktop computer arrived, with machines such as the Commodore Pet. You couldn't afford one at home but everyone was amazed a computer could be so small.

Even more amazing was the advent of the first home computers. My first was the Sinclair ZX81.
In the UK you could either buy it in kit form and build it yourself for £49.95 or £69.95 ready to go. You either typed the BASIC program in by hand or loaded it from an ordinary audio cassette player. I understand they were also marketed in the USA by Timex.

Your screen was provided by an ordinary TV set. The machine had a staggering 1k byte of memory! Contrast this with around 2Gbyte in todays PCs (around one million times as much). For a further £50 you could buy a plug in 16k storage expansion module. Amazingly this cost far more than an extra 2G of PC memory today.

Unfortunately it had no floppy drive and the memory was volatile. meaning that when you powered off everything was lost. You therefore had to down load your program to your audio player and pray that next time you tried to load your program it would actually load again!

The kids today with their X-boxes and Wiis, they don't know they're born. When I was a lad times were hard...

I threw my ZX81 away but in the last few years the price has been going up. How long before we see early computers on the UK TV show, The Antiques Roadshow? It would be nice to know that one day the sinclair machine might be worth more than the £70 paid we for it!

Who Remembers Wonder Woman?

All this talk about Sarah Palin and drawing comparisons with Wonder Woman got me thinking about where Wonder Woman came from. Remember the 1970's TV show The New Original Wonder Woman featuring Lynda Carter?

Wonder Woman had an alias as Diana Prince a spectacle-wearing Naval Officer (who bears a strong resemblance to Sarah Palin). Wonder Woman’s outfit is sexy and, in USA terms, patriotic. So some folk on the web hit on the idea of putting Sarah Palin, an ex beauty Queen, in a Stars and Stripes bikini (via Photoshop). This story was then picked up in the print media.

Can you see the resemblance? For more about Wonder Woman and comparisons between the real Palin and Lynda Carter as Diana Prince, check out the following article. You can also find out what Lynda Carter really thinks about being compared to the VP candidate from Alaska!

Credit Crunch, Energy Crisis and 10 Reasons to Burn Wood

Can things really get any worse? The Credit Crunch burden gets heavier and crunchier by the day. The price of energy is going through the roof and the biggest banks and airlines are going bust.

So what can you do? Well here is something very simple. Why not turn back the clock, Retrotech style, and start saving money by burning wood. Preferably in a modern wood burning stove.

For more on the romance, economics and environmental benefits of Wood Burning check out this link:

Get On Your Bike!

We at Retrotech like to celebrate success and also be topical. With the 2008 Bejing Olympics coming to an end, we salute the successful UK cycling team and their dash for Gold.

The bike is a true piece of RetroTechnology. The current Olympic version, pictured here, combines an old fashioned simplicity with the latest engineering and scientific research.

Victorious Victoria Pendleton (dressed for an evening ride?) is one of our UK Gold Medal winners. I think I might just take up cycling again. Who knows who you might meet in the bike sheds?

Early Television

Just a reminder of the days when we expected so much less from our technology. When this set came out the only colours you could view were black and white. No flat wafer-thin screen. No HD. Just a goldfish bowl picture with rounded corners and 405 horizontal lines making up the picture which almost disappeared if a plane flew overhead!

In the UK, back in the 50s, there was only one channel, the BBC. It wasn't until 1955 we got our first commercial channel, ITV. TV wasn't 24/7 back then so we played with our wooden toys and Meccano sets until kids TV started at 5.00pm. Happy days!

Hot Gossip: The Prince, Kylie, Dr Who and a Plumber from Birmingham

Recent posts here have included London and also Dr Who. This one combines the two themes via none other than that bubbly pop princess and all round trouper, Kylie Minogue.

Kylie joined David Tennant here in the UK to star in the Dr Who 2007 Christmas Special about a futuristic version of the Titanic. Kylie is a RetroTech kind of girl; a timeless Diva.

As a result of this and her many other contributions to popular culture, she received the Order of the British Empire (OBE) from none other than Prince Charles earlier this month.

If you want to hear some juicy gossip involving the Aussie songstress then check out: Kylie: Hot Gossip and a Plumber from Birmingham

Eye Love London - London Eye

"London Calling" is an old Clash Anthem. London is still cool. So is London calling you?

Why not come and visit one of the world’s great cities and home of the 2012 Olympics.

So what is the Eye?

It’s a huge, futuristic ferris wheel. The height of the London Eye is 135m making it the fourth tallest structure in London.

The London Eye has won over 75 awards for national and international tourism, outstanding architectural quality and engineering achievement since opening in March 2000.

It is also the tallest observation wheel in the world located on the bank of the River Thames close to Westminster and the British Parlament.

You can see around 40KM (25 miles) from the top. That's as far as Windsor Castle on a clear day.

The London Eye welcomes an average of 3.5 million customers every year and can carry 800 passengers per revolution - equivalent to 11 London red doubled-decker buses.

Each rotation takes about 30 minutes, meaning a capsule travels at a stately 26cm per second, or 0.9km (0.6 miles) per hour - allowing passengers to step on and off without the wheel having to stop.

Enough of these statistics. Eye'll see you soon in London!

Old-Fashioned Steam Radio

Here's a reminder of what radios used to look like around World War II.

The days when a geek's hobby was being a 'Radio Ham' and you stuffed your attic full of huge gray boxes with glowing valves and hissing everywhere. Meanwhile, your roof was adorned with massive antennae warning the neighbours you were not 'normal'.

As the picture shows, it had its compensations. Attractive young women flocked to your bedroom in the hope of catching a few well turned phrases of Norwegian or the distant chatter of Chinese whispers above the static.

Happy days!

Doctor Who

The 4th series of Doctor Who has been a real roller-coaster, thrill ride. Very different to the old days of dodgy sets, cheap costumes and daleks who threatened world domination but couldn't climb stairs.

Finally we know that David Tennant remains the Doctor for another series.

The sonic screwdrive (pictured) is a key gadget used by Doctor Who - a kind of intergalactic/timetravelling Swiss Army knife.

To investigate the latest WiFi gadgets, why not check out:

WiFi Gadgets - get more value from your WiFi broadband

Death by Magic Lantern

Back in the days before Television and the Web, technologies such as the Magic Lantern began to compete with more traditional entertainment such as Charades and piano, poetry or singing recitals.

The Magic lantern was an early version of the slide projector which bored to death millions of families from around the 1950s onwards.

Nowadays we tend to send a link to a site like Flica or Picassa and trust our friends/family to check out our latest snaps. At least they no longer have to endure dreaded phrases such as,

"Now this next carosel is from our holidays in Spain. Then we have 2 more from Clackton-on-Sea.... Then we'll break for a cup of tea ..."

Here is a typical example of the kit, complete with handy carrying case.

Today the nearest equivalent to the dreaded slide show is 'Death by PowerPoint' frequently endured at countless business meetings across the globe.

For some lighthearted hints and tips on presentations and how to avoid death by PowerPoint check out:

Deliver Successful, Effective Presentations.

SteamPunk and Nicole

Steampunk is a term used in fantasy and speculative fiction that came into fashion in the 1980s. The term relates to an alternative universe where steam power is still widely used.

In Steampunk there is typically an element of the works of H. G. Wells and Jules Verne and real technological developments like the computer or mobile phone occurring at an earlier date.

Here is a PC built in Steampunk style. This one was sold on Ebay. The frame is solid 1/4-inch brass. The base features a mixture of brass and black marble.

The Goldern Compass

There is an element of Steampunk in the movie The Golden Compass, based on Philip Pullman's book. This is particularly reflected in modes of transport such as the amazing steam carriages and the airships.

There is no doubt that there is a real hunger for these retro-looking technology items. We long for the days when technology was hand-made and individually crafted. Think of the early gramophones with their cabinet-maker cases.

With oil prices going through the roof, who knows, the steam car may be on the way back. Similarly the airship could also be the next big retro-technology thing.

Talking of Retro and the Golden Compass, it seems only right to end with Nicole Kidman; an actress of timeless beauty who compliments retro-technology so well.

Safety First?

In days gone by people had a more cavalier attitude to safety. This picture illustrates my point perfectly.

  • Who is holding the handlebars?
  • Where are the safety helmets?
  • What about protective clothing?
  • How come the person in front is blindfolded?
Still, it just goes to show that the Italians know how to have a good time.

StarWars Retrospective - Leia Reunion?

This is one of those weird pictures that just catches the imagination. What is going on here? It has the look of a sixth form class photo with the form teacher at the back. (click to enlarge)

I found this in my researches for an article on Weird Sci-fi Glamour (click to read). I didn't use it in the article although it would have fitted in pretty well.

Although I've never been a great fan of Starwars you have to envy the guy at the back just a little.

IPOD, Pirates and Fakes?

Here is an early advert for an Apple IPOD. Or is it?

Kind of looks like an early transistor radio got the Photoshop treatment. But what do you think?

I spend many happy hours in the UK listening to AM pirate radio on one of these. Lots of static but very exciting. In those days the UK was surrounded by around 20 ships broadcasting pop music illegally. The government caved in in the end and allowed commercial radio on land.

If I were a Man I'd Join the Navy

This is a strange poster by today's standards.

It shows how much times have changed. This is so sexist. The implication is that only real MEN are fit for the Navy. Women can only dream.

Certainly at least 20% of the crew on a typical British Royal Navy vessel are now women. Arguably its a more grown up environment as a result.

Massive Interest in Horned Gramophone

I'm amazed how interested you guys out there are in the horned gramophone I recently posted (April 26) which plays 78 records. Due to popular demand here is another shot of the same 'model'.

Aria (the lady in old-fashioned underwear) is demonstrating the deployment of the horn. A beautiful piece of equipment. They don't just make them like that any more!

True or Hoax - You Decide

So here you have it - a complex looking machine used to collect data in order to to select the perfect car cushion. Surely not? Could this be another Photo Shopped hoax? On balance I think its genuine. But what do you think?

If you check back to my 23 April post you'll see another example a bit like this which did turn out to be a hoax. The RAND corporation home computer.

A final question. Why on earth is the driver wearing a hat? presumably she is inside a lab of some kind. Perhaps its just a fashion statement.

Kitchen HiFi

This woman is obviously incredibly proud of her new-fangled, portable music machine. So proud that it is a wonder she managed to prepare the substancial meal she is carrying.

I love these homely US Ads from around the 1950s. All 'God, Motherhood and Apple Pie'. I'm also fascinated by the progression of music players from the horned gramophone to the Ipod.

Talking of horned gramophones, I just happen to have a picture of one. I apologise that the lady demonstrating it is only partly clothed. Perhaps she plans to listen to some music while getting ready for bed.

Incredible that these machines are purely mechanical. The clockwork motor turns the disk and the needle in the grove vibrates reproducing the sound. The horn applifies the sound so it was clearly audible. With not an amplifer or any electricity in sight. Beautiful isn't it?

The lady in the picture? Aria Giovanni wasn't born until 1977 in Long Beach California. She obviously gets her underwear from a charity shop along with the record player and her 78 records.

These Damn Metal Suits Are Turning Our Hair Purple!

Here is a shot from UFO, a UK TV series created by Gerry and Silvia Anderson in 1970.

UFO was the Andersons' first TV series with human actors instead of puppets. Maybe that was why the acting was sometimes a little wooden?

This series was deliberately targeted at an older audience; many episodes featured adult themes such as adultery, divorce, and drug use. In all, 26 episodes were filmed over the course of more than a year.

I love the technology. Those wonderful flick-switches in a range of primary colours - a bit like lego bricks. And of course the tight silver jump-suits knitted from wire with the purple bobbed hair.

My, those silver panties look jolly uncomfortable but you just can't beat that 1970's style, can you?

Bombs Away!

This modern image has a nostalgic US/World War II feel to it.

Incidentally I just learnt something new. You know the idea that around 20% of people do 80% of the work in a voluntary organisation? You can apply this rule of thumb to all kinds of situations. Well I discovered today, via the HubPages forums, that it has a name, The Pareto Principle.

It is also known as the 80-20 Rule. 80% of the effects come from 20% of the causes. It is named after Italian economist Vilfredo Pareto, who observed that 80% of income in Italy went to 20% of the population. It is also a common rule of thumb in business; e.g., "80% of your sales comes from 20% of your clients."

Which has nothing much to do with a gorgeous woman draped across the hood of a WW2 Jeep.

Talking of HubPages, why not check out my HubPages?

RAND Corporation Prediction?

On the face of it the following picture from the 1950s shows what the RAND Corporation thought a home computer might look like 50 years on, in 2004. But all is not quite as it seems. There is something not quite right about it. Surely you couldn't fit all that into the average home? And that wheel looks slightly fishy?

Check out the following article on to find out the truth. It just goes to show you shouldn't believe everything you read or see. Particularly in the Photoshop era!

Hair Today (Gone Tomorrow)

Moving on from the previous post about records, here is the original cover of 'Hair!'. This amuses me because you'd think a musical called Hair would demand an unusually high standard of hairdressing.

But no. The girl show here looks like she had the ultimate bad hair day. She appears to have been sleeping rough for some days.

If you like fashion disasters like this then check out the following: Weird Glamour Link

Vinyl and Stocking Tops

Who remembers those happy days when music came on vinyl discs? Or if you are really old, 78 rpm bakelite discs which smashed when you dropped them?

Funny to think how many generations of sound recording there are:

  • Wax Cylinders
  • 78 rpm discs
  • Vinyl discs (45 rpm and LPs 33 rpm)
  • Reel to reel tape
  • Cassette Tape
  • CDs
  • and now MP3 downloads
So music playback technology has arguably improved immeasurably over the last 100 years. But then would you rather listen to your music alone on an Ipod or share the experience (via scratchy records) with the young lady above? Call me old fashioned but...

Retro Coffee

If you like Retro Coffee machines then here is something to really roast your beans. Talking of Coffee, if you live in the UK, you may remember a highly successful set of soap-like TV Ads for Nestcafe Gold Blend. They featured Antony Head as the male lead (well known to Buffy fans).

Inspired by the idea that the British found instant coffee romantic and sexy, I published a ‘tongue in cheek’ serial in a specialist computer magazine, based on a product called 'Cheapsavers' Gold. Unfortunately, the publishers pulled the plug after 2 episodes (serials and romantic fiction were not really where the magazine was at).

If you want to see the original Ads (video) or follow the serial beyond the two episodes, Click here to read Coffee! - The serial.

Abba and Baking Foil

This is the ultimate lowtech PR. Abba clad only in aluminium foil. An indication of what a 'hot' band they once were.

This is ultimate weird glamour. If this is your bag then check out the following: Weird Glamour Link

Here you'll find even more bizarre fashion statements from the likes of Jane Fonda to David 'Baywatch' Haselhoff - Enjoy!

Mobile Phones?

I remember when we moved into our new house some 20 years ago and one of our neighbours bought his 'mobile' around because he was expecting a call. It was a massive box with a telephone handpiece attached - intended to fit inside a car. He left it lying around ostentatiously. I'd never seen a 'mobile' before and was secretly impressed.

This one is tiny in comparison. I love the 80's movies with early mobiles. The relative size of the box instantly dates the movie!

Incidentally I love HubPages. If you want to find out how to write your own Hubs for free (and make some money) check out the following: Beginners guide to HubPages

The Shape of Cars and Girls

The shape of cars and the shape of girls have changed over the years. Or rather the way girls are pictured in order to market cars has changed.

Cars have got sleeker and more streamlined. So have the girls that go with them. Of course this isn't reflected in real life. But only in the minds of those who sell. In particular the fashion industry.

Just as we often yearn for old, retro-shapes in technology so we also look back with longing for the way women used to look, or more accurately, the way women were portrayed.

So bring back real women. Or rather, give back to women the to freedom to be who they want to be. Talking of real women, if you want hot gossip on Kylie Minogue and a plumber from Birmingham then Click Here.

Cycling in the Bush

Couldn't resist posting this one because it is so weird. It does have a bit of glamour in it and some old technology so it fits the RetroTech brief.

You can imagine an argument going on here.

"Its my turn now! And I don't see why I have to hold up the sunshade when you've got the hat!"

"If you don't let me keep peddling a bit longer then we'll both have to get dressed again."

"Oh please don't say that - the corset was killing me."

"By the way, is that Zebra still following us?"

"You'd think he'd never seen scantily clad ladies with a bike in the bush before."

History of the Sex Industry

The Sex Industry has been around longer than you think. Before chat lines there were old-fashioned operators who made the phone connection for you.

You could try it on with them and you might get lucky but more often than not if you talked dirty you'd find a policeman at your door.

The good old days. When you said to the operator, "A long distance to New York."
And she replied, "it sure is mister!" and then hung up.

Virgin Trains Boosting Passenger Numbers?

Your guess as to what is going on here is as good as mine. Perhaps its a Virgin Rail promotion. Or maybe one of those mammoth train journeys where vendors sell their wares from the platform when the train makes a brief stop. How much for a brief kiss and cuddle from the platform?
These were the days when railways were ruled by steam and passion made the trains run on time.

Swinging Airlines

Do you remember the days when Air travel was still glamorous. When being a Pilot or an Air Hostess was the coolest of professions?

This is a typical publicity shot of the late 60s or early 70s - It seemed as if you weren't so much buying a seat on a plane as buying the company of a beautiful woman. Marketing an airline had more in common with an escort agency than the traditional idea of in-flight service.

Incidentally someone recently asked who the first Air Hostess was. I had a quick look on Wikipedia. The first male steward was believed to be on a Zeppelin airship in 1911 (no name given). The first female was Ellen Church (25 years old) on United Airlines flight in 1930. So now you know!

If you want to read more try:
Have Budget Airlines killed the Glamour of Flying?.

Green Energy?

This promotional photo from the 1950s extols the virtue of air conditioning although at first sight it looks like a giant radio set.

It would be nice to think it was powered by a solar array on the roof, a wind turbine or a hydroelectric scheme but in reality it was probably powered by coal or oil-fired generation. The 1950s lady luxuriating and possibly orgasming in the icy blast doesn't seem too worried about such weighty moral dilemmas.

Electronic Mail

This goes back to the days before we ordinary folk knew what email was. Those distant times when the Beatles topped every chart and when computers were the size of a London bus. The public weren't allowed to touch them because they were so valuable. If you were privileged, you might view the 'mainframe' through toughened glass.

Who can forget the magnificent IBM 360 or Burroughs, Univac and Honeywell? Or magnetic tapes drives the size of a garden shed? Happy days when IT folk wrote programs in FORTRAN and stored them on punched cards stored in metal boxes.

Pinball Wizard

Here we have an Iconic piece of RetroTechnology - the pinball machine. Somehow the original looks so much better than the modern, computer-based replacement (Ann-Margret helps too).

The ad links the machine to the movie Pinball Wizard by the Who. I was there for the famous 'Live at Leeds' Gig the Who did in '69. I couldn't get a ticket but my room was so near the Student Refectory, where it was recorded that I heard every chord.

If I'd been daft enough to complain about the noise then perhaps the legendary album would never have been made?

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About Me

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I’m an Engineer and Training Analyst who has given up full time work to pursue my own interests. Part of my strategy to manage my income, in these days of UK pension freedoms, has been to move into Peer to Peer Lending. I’ve therefore created a blog to share my experiences, good and bad, of this exciting and lucrative new industry.