Weird Thoughts About Electronics

A friend of mine on the Facebook group Vintage Stereo & Hi-Fi Equipment just sent me a copy of the Lafayette Radio Electronics catalog for 1974. I guess he collects them, and had two copies of this one. 1974 was right in the middle of the worst part of my stereo habit, so I found it interesting. I came to a startling conclusion reading it:

Stereo and television equipment today is dirt cheap.

Let me illustrate. While Lafayette carried a lot of their in-house brand, they also carried some name-brand equipment. I will put down here some of the pieces many people who were active in electronics back in the day will recognize. The 1974 price is noted, with the 2017 equivalent dollars in parentheses.

AR Model X/B 2-Speed Manual Turntable — $99.96 ($529.12)
Shure SME Series II Tonearm — $135.00 ($714.60)
Shure V-15 Type III Phono Cartridge — $72.50 ($383.77)
Stanton 681EE Phono Cartridge — $72.00 ($381.12)
Empire 1000ZE Phono Cartridge — $99.95 ($529.07)
Pioneer SX626, 27 WRMS per channel AM/FM Receiver — $329.95 ($1746.53)
Pioneer SX828, 60 WRMS per channel AM/FM Receiver — $469.95 ($2487.60)
Pioneer R700 Three-Way Speaker System, 12″ woofer — $229.95 ($1217.20)
Altec 15″ Woofer 418B (driver only) — $95.00 ($502.87)
Koss PRO-4AA Stereo Headphones — $60 ($317.60)
Sony Trinitron 17″ COLOR Television — $469.95 ($2487.60)

Now, this was all OK-quality stuff, but certainly not super high-end (except for the Sony Trinitron). We were trading this stuff back and forth all the time in college. So let’s say you got an AR turntable, Stanton 681EE cartridge, the Pioneer SX828, and two of those Pioneer R700 speakers. We’ll skip a TV and headphones and a cassette deck for the moment, and not replace the tonearm on the AR. Still, a solid system. What’ll that set you back? $1100 in 1974 dollars. Roughly three-and-a-half months’ take-home pay for me as a grad student

That’s a cool $5800 in 2017 dollars.

And look at that Sony TV for a moment. $2500 for a 17″ TV. I just paid $800 for a 65″ TV. Almost four times bigger for one third the price.

You can beat that Pioneer SX828 with a Sony STR-DH190 with 100 WRMS per channel for a hundred and fifty 2017 dollars. One eighth the price.

And the Cerwin-Vega SL12 Speaker is a good match to those Pioneer R700s for $350 a side, a bit over a quarter as much.

And we were college students, fer cryin’ out loud.

So quit yer bitchin’. Quality electronics has never been cheaper.

Weird Thoughts About Survival

Two years ago yesterday I left the hospital after having repairs. I had had a heart attack, with a 100% blockage of the Left Anterior Descending (LAD) coronary artery, a.k.a. the Windowmaker. I survived, which surprised hell out of the doctors. They put two stents in me, pronounced me good as new, or as close as they were going to get anyway, patted me on the ass and sent me home.

Two years — so far — of extra innings.

And yes, I feel great. Thanks for asking.

Such an experience changes you, however. Some things I was doing, like being an expert testifying witness in court cases, I decided were too high stress. So I quit. I finished out the one case I had, and I’m done.

I sold the 1978 Cheyenne 4×4 and bought a 2017 Sierra Denali 4×4. Talk about from the ridiculous to the sublime. I loved the ’78 Cheyenne. It was rough and tough and loud. And it was honest. But it was also not the best for creature comforts. I decided after seven years that enough was enough, and I set aside the rough and tough for the comfy.

The other thing that happens is that you develop a keen appreciation that life is not forever. All those things you were always going to do someday? Guess what? Someday is here.

I had always wanted to be a writer, to write science fiction like the authors I had read all my life. Maybe write some other stuff, too. But I always wanted to be a writer. After I got out of the hospital I realized that now was the time to do it or admit it was never going to happen.

In the past two years, I have written and published four books, and am writing another. The two novels I wrote in about a month each, start to finish. The memoir took about six weeks. And the reviews are good. Apparently I can do this.

So I’m a writer, like I always wanted. And I find I enjoy it.

If I hadn’t had that heart attack, I may never have done it at all.

Don’t wait for your heart attack. If there’s something you always wanted to do, go do it.



Weird Thoughts About Celebrity

OK, so, funny story. In the context of SF author Jon del Arroz being banned from WorldCon 76, and then getting lectured by David Gerrold on humility, the situation reminded me of something that happened to me at SIGGRAPH in Detroit in 1983.

SIGGRAPH is the annual meeting of the Special Interest Group – Graphics of the Association of Computing Machinery (ACM). 1983 was the year SW:ROTJ was coming out, and ILM was going to show some of the graphics work for the new film. Lots of other Hollywood-type stuff. You know, the second Death Star in the force field and that sort of thing.

In 1983, I was working in video games, and another guy and I got into a private party at the convention that was held in a connected suite of hotel rooms at the Renaissance Center. This was the beautiful people party, and all the beautiful people were there. There were lots of beautiful women dressed in scanty SW and other SF outfits (early cosplay stuff, and my first ‘Slave Leia’ sighting), and lots of VIP types. All the beautiful people were swarming around the puffed-up VIP types.

So this guy and I were standing against a wall, drinking free beers and watching in amazement. We were engineering nerds, and anything but beautiful people, but we were going to hang around while the beer lasted or until somebody threw us out.

So this little Jewish guy with wire-rim glasses, clearly another nerd, comes up and says: “What do you guys do?”

“We design video games. You know, arcade games.”

“Cool. What games have you done?”

We named a couple-three games, and he’s like “I have that one. It’s great. That one, too. Love it.”

He has new-release arcade video games of his own? These were not cheap.

“So what do you do?”

“I make movies.”

“What kind of movies? I mean, would we have seen any of them?”

He looks sideways left and right to see if anyone is listening. “Jaws. Close Encounters.”

“You’re Ste–”

“Sshhh. Nobody’s recognized me, and I’m having a wonderful time.”

So my nerd-buddy and nerd-self spent an hour chatting with Steven Spielberg at SIGGRAPH 83 while all the beautiful people swarmed around all the puffed-up, self-important nobodies.

Spielberg was dressed like an engineer getting “dressed up” — blue jeans and a plaid shirt like always, with a cheap sport coat thrown over it all. And everybody ignored him as unimportant. And he loved it.

Which I guess is my point. The people who are really famous and important get tired of the limelight, and try to blend in, not puff themselves up. They don’t need to.

Weird Thoughts About Blogging

a new occupation, and a new hobby

Everybody and their brother-in-law has been blogging since forever. I’ve resisted doing it all this time, but I am now retiring from some of my activities, and picking up new ones, for which a blog is appropriate.

The activities from which I am retiring are related to consulting on trade secret litigation. This is not exactly something one can blog about. They’re secrets, after all, and finding them on the net would probably not make clients happy. I can almost guarantee that.

I’ve also set aside some hobbies. Model railroading is one. I’ve planned all of, and built much of, one big layout. I’ve helped a bunch of other people with their layouts. I’ve written a couple dozen magazine articles about various aspects of the hobby. I designed and, for twenty years, marketed a line of electronics for model railroad control. I served as the first webmaster for the National Model Railroad Association (NMRA) for ten years. I had a lot of fun with it, but I’m done with it.  I still keep my hand in on other people’s layouts, but I have no desire to build another of my own.

Another hobby I’ve set aside is working on classic cars. I did it back in the day because I had to. Those 1960’s beaters were what I could afford to own and drive, and I learned how to get them running and keep them running. Rebuilding engines, swapping engines and transmissions, tuning finicky carburetion and ignition systems, I did all that. In 2010, I bought a 1978 Chevy Cheyenne pickup truck and did it all again. I re-learned everything I had once known, learned some more, and reworked that truck to be the best it could be. In 2017, needing more comfort and convenience in my daily driver as I age, and having no desire to license, insure, and maintain two vehicles for myself, I sold the Cheyenne and bought a new 2017 GMC Sierra.

I know there are lots of people who get into a hobby and stay at it their whole lives. I’m not one of them. I have a lot of what I call been-there-done-that syndrome in my personality, and when I’m done with something, I’m done. I’ll always have an appreciation for model railroads and classic cars, but, for myself, I’m done with them.

My new activities are primarily writing science fiction. I’ve always wanted to be a writer, but engineering, and later consulting, were much more lucrative, and I have developed over the years a taste for being well housed and well fed. Writing is not a way to ensure that. Writers, except for the few hundred mega-writers you hear about all the time, don’t make a lot of money. There are thousands of people writing fiction, even thousands of people writing science fiction, and you never heard of ninety-nine percent of them. Most of them write on the side while working some other job, hoping for their big break. Most never get that big break.

And I probably won’t either. But I enjoy doing it, and am now comfortably retired, so I have a new occupation, a new hobby, and something I can blog about, all rolled into one.