RELIC: Relic Roundup

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Oct_Relic

If you have a modern smartphone or tablet, you have enough to get all the entertainment basics done anywhere you might find yourself, whether it is reading an eBook, playing a video game, watching a movie or listening to tunes. Not long ago, though, each activity had its own set of devices, each in its own special place. For many of you, these are all just hazy memories, but for those of us who have been around the block a few times, all of these are familiar, and invoke a sense of nostalgia. Entertainment has always been with us; we’ve just started doing things differently.

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It’s all in the cards

For any researcher over 25, the card catalogue at the library is a familiar friend. This massive repository held everything you needed to find the info you need about a topic. The card catalogue, with titles, authors and topics written in what will probably appear to be encrypted messages to the younger readers was the first stop one would have to make to conduct a thorough, organized search for a particular book. Sure, you could roam the shelves aimlessly and just romantically let your gaze fall on the exact spot where your title just happened to be located, but searching for a needle in a pile of needles gets very tedious in short order.

The card catalogue exists in order to assist the reader in a few things. First, it allows books to be found. Whether it is by author, title, subject, or category, it helps make sense of the forest of books, and saves readers and researchers from wandering the aisles like mindless zombies or under-caffeinated students, as the case may be. Another objective for the creation and maintenance of the CC is to show just what the library has in its collection, again by author, or materials on particular subjects, and kinds of literature. Finally, it helps searchers choose books they need, according to editions or particular characters of the books in question. It’s a huge (and wonderful) collection of meta-data that was uncannily effective at helping you find what you need, as long as no one has beaten you to it. I usually had rotten luck with that part of the search.

Card catalogues have, by and large, been replaced by computers that can do the exact same thing much faster, in a more convenient format, without the risk of dying because of papercuts. Computerization also allows remote searching of the collection, as well as the option to include lots of extra information on each of the entries. Still, it’s hard to beat the actual, physical card catalogue and its gorgeous shelves.

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Good, Beta, Best

Betamax, the short-lived home video standard, needs no explanation for many. It’s the butt of jokes about obsolescence, and is the poster child for lost tech. For those who don’t get those jokes, Betamax is an analogue A/V format that stored shows on magnetic tape. It came out first in the mid ‘70s, and the Sony technology  was quickly adopted as the best way to enjoy films at home. The “beta” name came from the Greek letter “Beta”whose shape the tape took inside the machine as it was unspooled from the cassette and fed across the reading head.

The Beta format also allowed consumers a more convenient way to record home movies, though early Beta solutions were two-piece deals, with a camera feeding information to a recorder via a cable. This eventually evolved into a single-piece device, though this created problems, as the engineering  used in the scaling meant that consumers could not play videos back from the camcorder. This was the beginning of the end for the format. As the rival format, VHS, had camcorders that could both record and play back, it started to slowly overtake Beta, even though the Beta was a smaller format that held just as much visual and audio information as VHS. There are a lot of technical advantages and disadvantages with Beta, but these were mostly way beyond the level with which consumers are concerned. The bottom line was clear though: those who went with Beta were doomed almost from the word “go.”  VHS quickly overtook the format and remained more or less the standard format until it was itself replaced by clearer digital formats.

Everyone—save possibly for hermits, small, secluded tribes, and a handful of other minorities—knows what the Discman is. This part is not about that. The Mini-Disc was a disc-based audio storage format released in 1992. It evolved to have the audio quality of CDs in a much smaller and more versatile format.

There were off-the-shelf albums in the format, but not many, so MD was very well-received by musicians and audio enthusiasts, as it allowed a lot of storage space, with great quality in a small, digital disc. Players could also record, and were quite significantly smaller than compact disc players. MD players were out at about the same time file-based MP3 players were hitting the market, further undercutting the value of the device. They were in production until early this year, and even now, there are people who swear by its convenience and clarity.

The discs, which looked a lot like little 3.5-inch computer floppies, worked via a combination of laser and magnetism. A laser hit the disc until the material could be affected by a magnetic field. A magnet then wrote information on the media, which then stuck as a 1 or 0. Reading was accomplished with just the laser. A nice advantage of the MD format is that recordable MDs could be written on and erased many, many times before it became unserviceable. The MD player we had basically just had a few discs we used and re-used when necessary; many more times than an audio cassette whose constant rubbing against the reading head destroyed it eventually.

Despite the versatility of the format, HDDs and flash memory proved much more resilient, convenient, and required less power to operate, which signalled the death of the very awesome, very useful MD.

Gaming has been around since the first humans got bored. Boardgames eventually gave way to their digital counterparts and, for many, there is a special place in their hearts for videogame cartridges.

ROM cartridges contain the circuitry and code necessary for a machine such as a gaming console, to execute a series of commands that make up a videogame. It was compact, swappable, and made gaming machines a sustainable form of entertainment. Without them, you would have to purchase a new machine for each game you want to play. It also allowed users to keep information such as save files and characters onto each of the carts.They had the disadvantage of being able to hold more limited amounts of data, which, at the time of smaller games, was fine, but became impractical as games increased in complexity and size.

Anyone who had cartridge-based gaming consoles in the past will be familiar with the process required when a game wouldn’t run, or would run oddly: pull out the cartridge, blow into it and replace, in order to get rid of the dust that was on the contacts. This helped, but not in the way one would expect. Games would often not run because of improper seating in the port, and removing and resetting the cart was usually enough to fix the problem.

Though widely replaced by digital distribution and much larger formats, the cartridge is still something special in the eyes of gamers, and each one is likely to have at least a few banging around in shoeboxes and drawers all over the house.

Entertainment will always be with us, no matter what form it may take. While they have all been replaced by newer technologies, they’re all still fascinating. The next time you do anything on your smartphone to pass the time, spare these guys a thought—they were cutting-edge once, too.

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The other music disc

Everyone—save possibly for hermits, small, secluded tribes, and a handful of other minorities—knows what the Discman is. This part is not about that. The Mini-Disc was a disc-based audio storage format released in 1992. It evolved to have the audio quality of CDs in a much smaller and more versatile format.

There were off-the-shelf albums in the format, but not many, so MD was very well-received by musicians and audio enthusiasts, as it allowed a lot of storage space, with great quality in a small, digital disc. Players could also record, and were quite significantly smaller than compact disc players. MD players were out at about the same time file-based MP3 players were hitting the market, further undercutting the value of the device. They were in production until early this year, and even now, there are people who swear by its convenience and clarity.

The discs, which looked a lot like little 3.5-inch computer floppies, worked via a combination of laser and magnetism. A laser hit the disc until the material could be affected by a magnetic field. A magnet then wrote information on the media, which then stuck as a 1 or 0. Reading was accomplished with just the laser. A nice advantage of the MD format is that recordable MDs could be written on and erased many, many times before it became unserviceable. The MD player we had basically just had a few discs we used and re-used when necessary; many more times than an audio cassette whose constant rubbing against the reading head destroyed it eventually.

Despite the versatility of the format, HDDs and flash memory proved much more resilient, convenient, and required less power to operate, which signalled the death of the very awesome, very useful MD.

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Have you tried turning it off and on again?

Everyone—save possibly for hermits, small, secluded tribes, and a handful of other minorities—knows what the Discman is. This part is not about that. The Mini-Disc was a disc-based audio storage format released in 1992. It evolved to have the audio quality of CDs in a much smaller and more versatile format.

There were off-the-shelf albums in the format, but not many, so MD was very well-received by musicians and audio enthusiasts, as it allowed a lot of storage space, with great quality in a small, digital disc. Players could also record, and were quite significantly smaller than compact disc players. MD players were out at about the same time file-based MP3 players were hitting the market, further undercutting the value of the device. They were in production until early this year, and even now, there are people who swear by its convenience and clarity.

The discs, which looked a lot like little 3.5-inch computer floppies, worked via a combination of laser and magnetism. A laser hit the disc until the material could be affected by a magnetic field. A magnet then wrote information on the media, which then stuck as a 1 or 0. Reading was accomplished with just the laser. A nice advantage of the MD format is that recordable MDs could be written on and erased many, many times before it became unserviceable. The MD player we had basically just had a few discs we used and re-used when necessary; many more times than an audio cassette whose constant rubbing against the reading head destroyed it eventually.

Despite the versatility of the format, HDDs and flash memory proved much more resilient, convenient, and required less power to operate, which signalled the death of the very awesome, very useful MD.

Gaming has been around since the first humans got bored. Boardgames eventually gave way to their digital counterparts and, for many, there is a special place in their hearts for videogame cartridges.

ROM cartridges contain the circuitry and code necessary for a machine such as a gaming console, to execute a series of commands that make up a videogame. It was compact, swappable, and made gaming machines a sustainable form of entertainment. Without them, you would have to purchase a new machine for each game you want to play. It also allowed users to keep information such as save files and characters onto each of the carts.They had the disadvantage of being able to hold more limited amounts of data, which, at the time of smaller games, was fine, but became impractical as games increased in complexity and size.

Anyone who had cartridge-based gaming consoles in the past will be familiar with the process required when a game wouldn’t run, or would run oddly: pull out the cartridge, blow into it and replace, in order to get rid of the dust that was on the contacts. This helped, but not in the way one would expect. Games would often not run because of improper seating in the port, and removing and resetting the cart was usually enough to fix the problem.

Though widely replaced by digital distribution and much larger formats, the cartridge is still something special in the eyes of gamers, and each one is likely to have at least a few banging around in shoeboxes and drawers all over the house.

Entertainment will always be with us, no matter what form it may take. While they have all been replaced by newer technologies, they’re all still fascinating. The next time you do anything on your smartphone to pass the time, spare these guys a thought—they were cutting-edge once, too.

First published in Gadgets Magazine, October 2013

Words by Ren Alcantara