Written by: Neil Van Oost Jr.
Some thoughts on technology …… When I was around twelve, I built my first radio receiver. It was from a kit, there were only a handful of parts, as far as I can remember, there was a coil wound around an oatmeal box, a carbon headset, a diode, a piece of galena (lead ore), a stiff wire and some wire and a couple of clips to connect it all. There was no battery, you probed the piece of galena with the stiff wire until you heard an AM radio station — it was great, and I built it myself.
It wasn’t long after that when I built my first one tube radio transmitter from another kit, for a short while this was also great, from my bedroom, I could broadcast to a radio down in the kitchen. This was short lived though, because little did I know, I was also transmitting to any radio within a three or four block radius that was tuned in close to the frequency that the kit was set up for, it tended to drift a bit, so it blocked out several radio stations. I think it was my uncle Henry that told my father there was a truck riding around on the other side of the tracks at the bottom of our hill, and they were looking for a pirate radio station, Oops! That ended my radio transmitting days. It seems at that time there were quite a few Pirate radio stations in the New York City area and New Jersey, and our government was actively attempting to shut them down. As fast as they shut one down, two more would pop up, it wasn’t very hard to set a station up as the technology was fairly easy to understand “Radio Row” (an area where the World Trade Center now stands) had plenty of WWII surplus radio equipment, and it was fairly cheap for anyone who wanted to tinker with it.
I went through several shortwave radio receivers during the time before I entered the Navy, almost every good AM radio had the short wave bands, and while I was in the Navy I was introduced to several powerful short wave radio receivers, along with fax machines and teletypes and map plotters, all of which I used as an Aerographer’s mate (commonly known as an AG or weather guesser). When I was transferred to the Fleet Numerical Weather Facility out in Monterey, California, I was introduced to main frame computers, some were older, but some were state of the art and connected worldwide via watts phone lines. I remember there was a seven second delay, when I was communicating with Hawaii, Japan, or Germany, and our most powerful computer had five hundred kilobytes of core memory (memory made up of very small donuts of ferrous iron, which were read as a zero or one depending on the charge).
After I left the Navy, I went to work for the US Postal service, as the years went by, I worked with everything from tube equipment to sophisticated networks and computers, everything always being updated to the latest technology. Now when I look around, everything is “tech”, from phones with powers and apps far beyond Dick Tracy’s wrist phone of my childhood, workplace robots that follow wifi signals around the warehouse while doing the work of two dozen workers, cars that drive themselves, and groups of kids walking down the street, heads down, thumbs busy, and text messages flying – to whom, you ask, why the person walking next to them.
Sometimes I think some of today’s “tech” has gone too far, we are becoming addicted and we are losing out on life around us. For several people that I know, that smart phone has taken over their life, Me, I have managed to dumb down, I have a cell phone, it is the flip variety, and yes it can connect to the internet, but only if I hit the wrong button, most of the time it is off, I do turn it on occasionally to call someone, and it is nice because I can call long distance without being charged more. But I do have to remember to charge it every couple of weeks. Also I do use my computer to send and receive email, but it is nice to send and receive a letter from a from a friend even though my handwriting or theirs gets kind of shaky sometimes and we misspell some words. You know, now that I think of it, I have never gotten a virus reading a handwritten letter, no matter how many times I fold or unfold it.
Every once in a while, when I am working in the garage, I turn on my short wave radio and listen to the BBC or Radio Netherlands, it’s nice getting someone’s viewpoint or news from the other side of the world — without two dozen commercials every five minutes and occasionally they play some nice music, again without commercials.
One final thought, typing this on the computer with spell check and auto save does sure beat the heck out of the old typewriter, so maybe some “tech” is OK.