Wednesday, September 09, 2009

Film Cuts, Burn’ Hot Bulbs and Other Assorted Images From My Childhood

Recently I was thinking way back to days long ago, and how very different technology has made the world.

I remember – and this shows my completely geeky side – when I was a kid, getting all excited about signing out “technology” from the school library for the weekend.

I put “technology” in quotation marks, because that is hardly what you’d call it today.

Back when I was a kid, we were allowed to sign out the microfiche project

An assortment of video tapesImage via Wikipedia

ors and film for the weekend for research. I’d eagerly sign up early in the week, to guarantee a projector – not that there was that great a demand for the things. Then after my last class on Friday, I’d rush to the library, to pick up the projector and film.

When I got home, I’d run up the stairs to my room, plop down my stuff, and start getting ready for a night of geeky slide shows.

This involved grabbing some big, heavy hard cover textbooks, and precisely putting them in the centre of my bed, to support the projector. Then I’d put the projector on makeshift stage.

The projector was a small dirty-grey thing, probably less than a foot high and wide, but it was so heavy, even on the stack of books it indented the ma

Digital Audio TapeImage via Wikipedia


I’d aim the projector at a blank wall, my door, the ceiling, anywhere I wanted the show to be. Then I’d plug it in, close my door, hit the lights and load up the microfiche.

For the next hour or so, I’d be my own projectionist, immersed in an imaginary world of flashing images of nature, history, and abstract art.

The light bulbs on these projectors were so intensely hot, my room would turn into an instant sauna, and I’d occasionally have to open the door to let so

Bottom view of VHS cassette with magnetic tape...Image via Wikipedia

me fresh air in.

These days, microfiche and slide film are dinosaurs of the technological past. Kids today probably have never heard of these things – or if they have, they probably have never seen any of these pieces of “technology,” unless they study librarian sciences in university.

There is something so tactile about the old technologies. More often than not, you’d have a pair of scissors handy, to splice a piece of microfiche or film, so that you could “smooth” out the ragged edge of the slide film, to feed it into the projector.

Many times I’d cut myself on the razor-sharp film edges – a kind of battle scar of the hobby.

They also let us sign out 16mm reel-to-reel movie projectors and accompanying films. These were slightly bigger, much heavier, and had far more complex paths to feed the film through.

I remember how proud with myself I was the first time I figured out how to feed the 16mm film through the projector. It wasn’t an easy task, there were several tight loops, rotating metallic wheels, and tension mechanisms which all had to be exactly right, else the film could either pull too tight and break, or sag too loose and unravel into one big mess on the floor.

Eventually, these bulky film projectors were replaced with videota

A VHS VCR manufactured by Metz.Image via Wikipedia

pes (first BETAMAX, and then the more popular VHS), and then laserdisc, DVD, and now Blueray. Now, there are often no physical media storage devices, thanks to digital file formats which we play on our computers and portable media devices.

Anyone remember DAT tapes? They lasted all of six-months – if that. Digital Audio Tapes (DAT) were about the size of micro cassettes (another outdated “technology”) and recorded digital-quality audio onto analogue-like tapes. Radio stations at the time invested millions on this now defunct recording format, thinking it would be the next big thing. But within weeks of DAT being launched, the Compact Disc (CD) was released, and that spelled the end of DAT.

Technology was so very different back then – and it really did make a difference in our lives.

Imagine a world where you never have to rush home, because you forgot to set your VCR, or getting home only to discover your VHS tape ran out half-way through your favorite show?

I still remember, whenever I went to a friends place when I was a kid, most VCRs were always blinking 12:00 because most were either too lazy, or just couldn’t figure out how to, program the correct time on those boxes.

With digital cable, Personal Video Recorders (PVRs) (Tivoli in the States), and the always on world of instant downloadable videos thanks to Internet sites like YouTube, we certainly live in a vastly different world.

I’ve had a PVR for almost a year now, and I’m still amazed at being able to pause and rewind live TV on the thing. When I was a kid, being able to “slow-mo” one frame at a time was amazing. I remember going “slow-mo” through so much stuff, just to see if you could spot anything subliminally hidden in between the video. (Of course there never was anything to see.)

Sometimes, looking back, I miss the days of film splicing, the burning heat – and even the smell of the film and the electronics – and even the odd cut caused by a jagged razor-sharp piece of microfiche.

Back then, the images weren’t as crisp or clear as today’s digital technology permits, but the whole experience was just that – an experience today’s kids will never have.

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