Athena Encounters the Technology of the Ancients

As I noted to people on Twitter who reported feeling old after watching this, it’s not you’re so old, it’s that she’s so young.

Update, 1/25: Athena responds to accusations that her reaction here was staged.

168 Comments on “Athena Encounters the Technology of the Ancients”

  1. I’m afraid that distinction doesn’t do anything to lessen my feeling that I’m just a few short years from a steady diet of Metamucil and wondering when Matlock is on.

  2. At least she is holding it nicely by the edges. Next you should show her a really old 78 (so thick and heavy!) and tell her it holds one song on each side.

  3. iholdtheline:

    Actually, it is the first LP that Athena’s ever handled.


    She’s holding it from the edges because she knows that’s how you handle CDs and DVDs.

  4. So what’s next, John? Are you going to show her a 5 1/4″ floppy disk? Do you even know anyone who still owns one? I don’t think I could get my hands on one, but I remember them from high school.

    Very sweet. I vote that this should become a semi-regular feature!

  5. I’m convinced that schools should be teaching the history of technology. There are some many devices / technologies that have revolutionized our society but very few young people understand how they work or that there was ever such a thing.

  6. She is SO great!

    Interestingly, despite the fact that I even remember 78s (hey, they were my dad’s… all I had were 45s and LPs and, um, 8-tracks), Athena doesn’t make me feel old. She just makes me feel happy.

    Thanks, Athena! You made my day!

  7. I remember someone had juryrigged a contraption that consisted of something like a sewing needle jammed into the end of a styrofoam cup, which they held above the record with their hand while the record spun on a turntable. This would then “play” the record, although extremely quietly. It was a good demonstration of the fact that the grooves in the record are mechanical, hills and valleys that shake the needle which recreates the sound.

    Note that this did basically destroy the record as the quality rapidly dropped for each one of these attempts to “play” it this way.

    Ya know, with the advent of free cell phones for kids (well, free as far as the kids are concerened), I suppose they will never feel the need to attempt to build a telephone system with two styrofoam cups and some waxed string. ah well. Kids these days.

  8. “As I noted to people on Twitter who reported feeling old after watching this, it’s not you’re so old, it’s that she’s so young.”

    Well… I’m too young to have ever handled an LP as well. I’m in my third year of law school. Just sayin’ is all.

  9. Funny. I had a very similar conversation with my daughter. Over the holidays we visited some of her cousins. One of the older guys (in his 20s) just got a turntable and we listened to Dark Side of the Moon on vinyl. I guess it’s kind of hip these days to listen to music totally analog.

  10. But you don’t have a record player? I want to see her react to seeing the machine work! Most of us think abacuses are neat, right?

    If you don’t have a record player, I’m sure someone near you must. I should note that my turntable is younger than Athena. So there!

  11. OK, so it’s the first LP she’s ever handled. Did she rehearse? I got the vibe.

  12. I also should add that I brought a slide rule to science class in high school more than once. The teacher actually let me use it for tests after I demonstrated that I knew how to use it properly. True story. At the time I thought it was the coolest thing (this was 1980-81), and had actually found an old book in the library that taught me how to use it.
    Unfortunately, I didn’t keep it, and these days I couldn’t use one without retraining.

  13. My favorite thing about that is seeing how another member of this species (12-13 year old human female) acts and speaks. Means I can relax a bit.

    What album is that, anyway?

  14. Place your bets, folks! Someday, will Athena show her children a CD, say “Do you know what this is?” and they will have precisely the same reaction as she did in this video?

  15. The funny thing is when you guys started discussing scratches on LP’s I immediately started thinking about all my scratched LP’s, where the scratches are and the weird loops they made. Memories…

  16. A FB friend of mine had a picture on his page of the little plastic contraption you used to put in the center of your 45s so you could listen to them on a standard turntable, with the caption along the lines of “if you know what this is, you’re old”. I’m nearly 40, and I recognized it immediately. I mentioned that my brother, who just turned 34, probably would not. My friend replied that neither of his two sons, both younger than my brother, had any idea what the plastic thing was either.

    Duskfire: In the late 90s, I was a student, at the Maternal Unit’s urging, at one of those “career colleges”-cum-diploma mills. The “state of the art technology” they used to teach the students consisted primarily of computers which held *only* the older, larger floppies. My home computer used only the smaller floppies, or CD-ROMs. I asked them how they expected the students to take work home, and was essentially met with the reply that “that wasn’t the school’s problem”.

  17. I still have 5 1/4 floppies if you want some. For that matter, I bought one of those turntables that you can use to transfer all your LP to MP3. Know what I figured out before I had my first album done? Amazon and Itunes are pretty good deals. Was fun to see my nieces and nephews give me looks while I played the albums.

  18. I’m 24 and was raised on my dad’s records, and still look for good finds to use on my own player. Also had an 8-track, but the motor band broke.

  19. Oh, and it’s colored vinyl, too. Extra sweet. DO you have and 30mg vinyl like some old Stones records? They seriously weigh a ton.

  20. that inspired me to pull an old LP off the top shelf and ask the 10 year old if he knew what it was. i’m proud to say that he did recognize it and knew it was a record and had songs on it and something about a thing that goes up and down to make sound. then he proceeded to scratch his fingernails across the surface to demonstrate *cringe*. he also got the number of songs correct, but that’s because he read the song list printed in the center. i’ll definitely have to repeat this experiment with progressively younger humans (7 and 4).

  21. I will confess that the very first time I played a CD, I tried to play “side B” when it was done.

    it was a friends CD player, he was an early adopter, and he was busy when I came over to visit. He asked me to play some music, and I eventually figured it out. 45 minutes or so later, when it was done playing, he was still busy, so I flipped it over.

    Yes. Yes. I’ve very old. Get off my lawn.

  22. Dude, that’s sad. I don’t even have a record player anymore and I got at least a crate of LP’s.

    Especially this one:

  23. What made the video for me was Athena playing with her phone before the big final reveal. That punctuates the technology gap perfectly. The related videos were about a female wrestler named Athena, which was a bit creepy.

    I was browsing through Goodwill the other day with my kids and I found an 8-track. I tried to explain what it was to them. I mostly appologized for 8-tracks.

    My kids found a 3.5″ floppy in the garage about a year ago. I was going to show them how it worked, but I couldn’t find a disk drive in the house.

    We have a couple records in the house. They are read along books of Star Wars and The Black Hole on 45’s.

  24. Gary: Kids already don’t know what a CD is. My 6 year old daughter doesn’t. She would think it was a DVD and ask me if it was Blu-Ray. And even those she’s not big on because they are more of a pain and take longer than pulling stuff up on AppleTv/Netflix.

  25. It’s clear from her discussion of the size of it and apparent expectation that it should hold 100 songs that she doesn’t realize the encoding on a record is a mechanical process–does she understand the distinction between mechanical processes and digital/electronic ones? Your kid’s very smart, but I don’t know if today’s children have much interaction with wholly mechanical devices.

    She’s holding it by the edges, so she doesn’t get a chance to feel the grooves and start to suss out what they might mean. (I approve of her holding it by the edges. But I remember defying my dad and touching the grooves of his recording of Carmen, and starting to understand what the needle was doing when the record passed under it.)

    When you said “needle,” did she think, like, a sewing needle? Or did she realize it was some sort of specialized stylus-type thing?

  26. Sure it’s staged,but Athena still sounds more convincing than most kids her age would. BUT, the dead giveaway for me was that she knew to hold the record by its edge.

  27. I’m inescapably reminded of Arthur Dent’s daughter Random(also brilliant, though less charming) and her reaction on being confronted with a wristwatch: “But why is it all in HARDWARE?”

  28. Kuanster:

    As noted earlier in the thread, she holds it on the edge because that’s how she holds CDs and DVDs.

    Also, when I noted to her that people seem to think it’s suspicious she’s holding the LP by the edge, she gave me a look of annoyed confusion and said “How else am I supposed to hold it? It’s big.

    I think people who think a 13-year-old wouldn’t have the sense to hold an LP by the edge may hold the opinion that 13-year-olds are by default simply appallingly stupid, which isn’t necessarily the case generally, and certainly isn’t in the case of my daughter.

  29. JS:

    You must not be familiar with college students. Care to guess how many of them (and this was a few years ago!) aren’t bright enough to hold a CD by the edges?

    It’s not unreasonable to be surprised that someone her age group knows the correct technique, IMO.

  30. You must not be familiar with college students. Care to guess how many of them (and this was a few years ago!) aren’t bright enough to hold a CD by the edges?

    It’s not unreasonable to be surprised that someone her age group knows the correct technique, IMO.

    You know, you might want to stop digging.

  31. I think Athena is adorable in this video –and you probably think so to. I know albums are making a comeback for a variety of reasons so I’m not too worried about feeling old for much longer. And besides, my daughter is 25 years old so I don’t need this to make me feel old.

    Speaking of albums making a comeback, my niece, who started her first year in SUNY Pottsdam in music performance and education last September, is working in the music archives and, as a result, wanted a record player for Christmas. And that’s what she got. One that will connect to her laptop via USB, too. My brother-in-law and sister-in-law took her to a second hand store and she bought a bunch of classical music albums for less than a dollar each. My brother-in-law had to show her how to look for scratches, etc. on the albums, too.

    Also, I thought that might be Jonathan Coulton’s latest album. I think the whole package was on a Flickr set that he re-tweeted.

  32. ? No, really, I know some college students (and adults, for that matter) who truly don’t understand how one treats a CD and why getting greasy fingerprints all over the bottom is a Bad Thing.

  33. Not only do I have all my parents’ LPs, but also my own LPs and 45s, those of my wife, sister-in-law, and two siblings, one of whom is now getting rid of all his CDs as well (they’re all loaded on his iMac, in compressed form I suppose). Plus I have all the family 8-tracks, more than 100, going back to the first-generation Ampex ones from 47 years ago; I’m finally getting rid of the cartridges with crumbling, useless parts such as the wheel that counterrotates against the player’s capstan. It’s a wonder I don’t have 78s and Edison cylinders around here someplace… I do have a program that lets me save any analog input to iTunes (Audio Hijack, from Rogue Amoeba) fairly easily, but have little time these days to use it.

    1980s 12-inch dance singles were cool in one respect that can’t be duplicated by digital equivalents: If the track has a regular beat throughout, you can actually see the physical pattern of the rhythm in the grooves.

  34. No, really, I know some college students (and adults, for that matter) who truly don’t understand how one treats a CD and why getting greasy fingerprints all over the bottom is a Bad Thing.

    Your formulation came across as John Scalzi doesn’t know the dumb college students you do, therefore it was reasonable on your part to think that Athena might be, as Scaliz put it, “appallingly stupid.” Do you really want to come across that way?

  35. Oy. I’m 22, and this STILL makes me feel old. (Then again, I know several people younger than me whose LP collections dwarf the one my parents had when I was a kid, which numbered in the hundreds. ‘Round these parts, we call them kids “hipsters.”)

  36. Dude, you have a lot of arguments with your significant other where you don’t quite understand what’s going on, don’t you?

  37. Dude, you enjoy making yourself look like a douche arguing with someone you keep misunderstanding, don’t you?

    I’ll stop here lest the mallet get warmed up.

  38. I actually just got my first record player for Christmas this year. I am 29 so I mostly missed out on vinyl the first time around. Though I do have fond memories of listening to Captain and Tennille on my parent’s player when I was little. The great thing is now I can pick up records at thrift stores, garage sales, my parent’s house, etc. and try out new music for cheap. Our kids are still quite young (3 & 6) so basically any technology they haven’t seen before blows their mind, they have been enjoying the read-a-long “3 Little Pigs”.

  39. Have you ever taken a close look at the DVDs that Netflix sends out? Most adults don’t seem to know that you’re supposed to handle them by the edges. For that matter, most adults don’t seem to know that you’re not supposed to use them as drink coasters.

  40. I have a Bobby Sherman 45 that I cut from the back of a cereal box. Still have a turntable to play it on also.

  41. I’m just old enough to have had LPs in my earlier childhood, including those ridiculously thin read-along jobbies that one could easily wad up. Can’t say I miss the things, their bulk, their fragility.

    Not old enough to have had any 45s, though. I remember being excited that my grandparents had a few to put into their old wood-cabinet player (and dismayed at how short they were), and before that wondering why my parents’ LP deck had that thingy in the center that popped up (you know, the one for holding the larger center hole of a 45). Don’t believe I’ve ever seen a 78.

  42. kiss and make up then, or as they say nowadays, hug it out.

    My thought was that the sheer weight of a rotary dial phone would amaze Athena and the fact that you could basically throw the thing at the ground and have it be just fine would shock her.

  43. I’m going to see what my 7 year old nephew makes of the 12″ single of New Order’s Blue Monday, with the “floppy disk” cover.

    John, I think you’ve just invented a new sport – “showing old stuff to bright kids”

  44. I’m convinced that schools should be teaching the history of technology. There are some many devices / technologies that have revolutionized our society but very few young people understand how they work or that there was ever such a thing.

    Seriously, other than curiosity and history what value is there to learning about buggy whips?
    hand operated phone switchboards?
    an infinite list of products which were later determined to be deadly?

    Does anyone need to know about 8-tracks and mini-disks?
    Other than the entertainment of learning history, there is no other value to be learned from this trivia.

    And when have the leaders or people of any nation actually learned from the disasters of history?

  45. A cousin’s wife is a high-school English teacher. She brings an old tech item to class once a month, I think. The biggest hit is the manual typewriter.

  46. Frankly, I do not believe that a man who gets more attention for writing or putting bacon on a cat would think to stage this. Just not his MO. To much or too little work, plus I think he actually believes in teaching his kid to have values.

    Peter S is so right- I vote for rotary phone next too.

  47. Scalzi, I love your kid in a totally un-creepy adult-thinking-a-kid-is-just-the-coolest-thing-ever way. That video make me smile from ear to ear! But what I love even more is how you completely adore her. It makes my heart warm every time you write about Athena. You’re an awesome dad, obvys.

    Thanks for sharing your family!

  48. When I went to university, my most prized possession was my turntable. Even moreso than my Apple IIe with the amber-on-black screen. The turntable had a linear tracking arm, so that the angle of the needle in the groove was always perfectly aligned. And when it finished Side 1, the arm would lift, pass over the rest of the LP, and TURN AND FLIP ON ITS TRACK UNDERNEATH the disc, which had now reversed its direction of spin. Then it played Side 2. By itself. And if you wanted, it would repeat.

    It was awesome.

    I got it at *Sears*.

  49. That was awesome. I left a box of LPs behind when I moved house a bit over ten years ago: I don’t miss them given I have no way to play them.
    I get told off by my sixteen year old daughter for calling DVDs “Videos”, as in “Have you got the videos to take back to the store?”

  50. @Stephen McNeil: Stop stealing *my* stuff.

    @peter cibulskis: The reason to show kids old technology is that they have a small chance of figuring out how it works. Kids need to learn by playing with things, and new technology can’t even be taken apart to explore. Seriously, try taking an iPad apart to figure out which parts are which.

    I realize that you might think that you don’t know how it works, but try building a meaningful labor force with people who just want to know which buttons to push. You’ll see America’s place in the world switch with China’s in a heartbeat.

    By the way, I mean kids need real things to play with. Jiggling things around on an iPod touch does not count. My kids went to a Montessori school, which emphasizes learning through manipulatives. Each item has multiple functions. Maria Montessori is one of the few people who I truly consider ahead of her time. The school was totally worth every penny and I wish it had enough space for older students.

    I was using a table of logarithms today in my trigonometry class just to show the students how it works. It helps to explain why we do things like rationalize denominators.

    Also, there is some data that can only be retrieved on older media like records. Not everything has been digitized and put in the reach of Google. My Grandfather still keeps an Apple II in his closet because the only digital copy of his father’s memoirs are on a 5.25″ floppies. (If anybody knows how we can transfer them to a Mac without retyping them, please let me know.)

  51. She appears to have the notion that Lps are more durable than CDs because if you drop a CD it’s gone.

    I played a few 45s when I was a kid, but all of the turntables I used to do this had a different sort of gadget to make a 45 fit on a regular turntable, so I think I was in college before I saw a picture of the ‘little plastic thingee’ and I didn’t know what it was.

    Would most kids Athene’s age really be surprised by rotary dial phones? Surely they see those from time to time on TV or movies. Don’t they still show the “yup, yup, yup” aliens on Sesame Street trying to communicate with the rotary dial phone.

    Do kids refer to ‘dialing’ phones and not know why?

    CDs may not have B sides, but I own a few DVDs that do.

  52. My eight-year old did that for the 3.5 inch floppy disk. And the floppy disk is only 10 years outdated. I felt ancient, especially she followed up her fascination with the relic with the question “Were there ceiling fans when you were young?”.

  53. gave my 15yo a 3.5″ floppy a while back (savvy, just never used floppies):

    “cool, still usefull for backups”

    “look again”

    “oh, 1.44 MBs not GBs… I couldn’t store one photo from my phone on that…”

  54. John, you should thrill her with the tales of 8-tracks and what happens when you are listening to your favorite song on one: it switches tracks! Ah memories.

    @those mentioning rotary phones: remember, not only could you make a call on one, but if a rabid moose got into your house you could use one as a weapon and put it out of your misery. ;-)

  55. Athena dropping the record and worrying about breaking it reminds me of when I did that as a little kid:

    I was really into bouncing on furniture, and one day I did so rather enthusiastically and right next to the record player. I knocked down one of the records, and when it hit the floor, the record shattered. My older brother screamed at me, “THAT WAS GOING TO BE A COLLECTOR’S ITEM SOMEDAY!” I knew I’d done bad, but I thought he was overreacting.

    It was a Star Wars soundtrack.


  56. Oh yeah, the cereal box 45s. I forgot all about those. I had the Bobby Sherman one and a couple of others. If you listen to an album on vinyl and on CD you will realize the vinyl version sounds better all around. CDs took over for vinyl because of their convenience.

  57. I learned how to type — and endured the early stages of learning how to write copy for an audience — on a manual typewriter. I miss it terribly. The rhythm and tangibility of typewriting are hard to beat, to say nothing of the thoughtfulness that goes into my copy as a result of wanting to avoid re-typing an entire typescript page.

    I also go through keyboards like, well, 45s. I get told during concalls that the other participants can hear my typing.

    I would love to see another of these videos, only addressing the gobsmacked reaction to a typewriter.

    “Oops! I made a mistake. Time to put in the correction tape…” “What?! That’s crazy.”

  58. Well, I think this is adorable–and very funny. When I was exactly Athena’s age my birthday present was a “hi-fi” portable stereo; had it for years, took it to college, have lots of old records and actually went to stores where all they did was sell records. Guess I’m old but I did love my records. And now I love all the new stuff. Just downloaded a book on my reader without missing a sip of coffee. Now that’s pretty marvelous.

  59. “I get told off by my sixteen year old daughter for calling DVDs “Videos”, as in “Have you got the videos to take back to the store?””

    They are videos. It produces a video stream. If you called them ‘tapes’, that would be wrong.

    ” If you listen to an album on vinyl and on CD you will realize the vinyl version sounds better all around. CDs took over for vinyl because of their convenience.”

    IF the vinyl is in excellent condition and every element of the player is high quality and your environment is quiet enough… conditions infrequently met.

  60. I wonder how many movies she would expect to be on a laser disk?

    And I think I may have to show my 8-year-old children a laser disk and a record and see what they think of them.

  61. My son, a couple years younger than Athena, has handled an LP. They did a crafts thing at his school where they heated them up and formed them in to wavy-edged bowls, and then painted them. I have no idea if he realized that this was a medium for music.

  62. Re: dial phones, a true story from the annals of the Bell System. At one point, the industrial designers at Western Electric improved the design of the classic Model 500 desktop telephone, reducing its weight as part of the process. After some initial customer focus groups, they again modified the design to make the metal baseplate thicker – because the feedback they got was that the new phone felt too light and flimsy.

  63. I have to disagree with the Twitter assertion: it’s that you’re old. I say this as a person who has come to accept that he is approaching oldness with a speed that does not diminish, but rather increases, and yet I posses barely any memory of these. I remember when CDs were a New Thing, and I remember a time before they existed. But of LPs… barely anything. The intervening space is mostly taken up by cassette tapes.

  64. I remember visiting Grandpa and he played his one-sided 78’s on his Victrola, which you had to WIND UP. I asked him to turn it up and he just laughed. Then he explained it was totally mechanical, and the clossest thing to volume control it had was adjusting the doors of the sound box. The year he was born Orville Wright was still in high school and the automobile only existed as assorted prototypes. By the time he passed we had put men in orbit.

    I learned to program on computers that filled rooms and used tape reels and punch cards. I remember when the 8″ floppy was a breakthrough in storage density. Today my PHONE has magnitudes more storage and computing power than those things. I was decluttering the house last weekend and came across some 3 1/4″ floppies. They don’t even make good coasters, so they went into the recycle bin.

    I’m still more than a decade away from social security, but yeah, some days I feel OLD.

  65. Very cool. One day I’ll find my boxes of LPs and drag them home for the child (11) to wonder at. She likes mechanical stuff so may think they’re really cool. Or stupid. As for rotary phones, when daughter was toddler, I asked her to bring me the phone and she brought me her Elmo flip phone. Even 10 years ago, the toys had already caught up to current tech.

  66. @Tully: Talking about change, my Mom lives in the adobe house she was born in, and up until she was 12, no electricity, no indoor plumbing (hand pumped well). It now has a passive solar heated floor and more computers than rooms.

  67. Actually, I agree with the suggestion that kids learn something about older tech in order to better understand newer tech. E.g. – I learned that the antenna inside my cell phone is based on a rudimentary design developed by a HAM Radio operator back in the early 80s (or was it 70s?), who used fractal mathmatics to develop a better, more compact antenna for his HAM radio set. Knowing how we got here from there leads to a deeper understanding of how things work, IMO.

    As to LP records, we have quite a collection at home. And we managed to procure a working turntable from Craigslist. Replacing the needle was kinda pricey, and we’re having a bit of trouble with grounding it (our house is old and lacks a proper ground) which creates a hum. But man, in looking at new turntables… some of them cost more than my car!!

  68. hm, ya know, it is kind of sad that there is no simple way to play a CD the way you can play an LP with a styrofoam cup and sewing needle.

    you need a laser, a detector, you have to extract the clock from the data (7b11 I think), then you have to convert the data with correction to raw data, then you have to run it through a d/a, and run it to a piezo buzzer glued to the bottom of a styrofoam cup.

    One nice thing about CD’s is they still use a spiral track like vinyl, they just started at the inside and worked their way out.

    Oh, one thing fundamentally different between CD and Vinyl: while both have spiral tracks, vylinyl records are played at constant RPM. CD’s are played at constant linear velocity, because the laser needs the physical geometry of the pits on the CD to remain constant.

  69. Athena doesn’t make me feel old. Being 30 makes me feel old. Understanding that my lifetime encompasses the entire commercial life of the Compact Disc makes me feel old. Remembering when the best personal computers had speeds rated in Megahertz and sixteen bit instruction sets makes me feel old. Remembering when LPs were actually the primary release medium of studio albums makes me feel old.

    I have albums on cassette tape, John! That I bought! With my own money!

    So what I’m saying is that being old makes me feel old.

    But Athena was great. Actually, I was a little disappointed at you, John. Your explanation of the phonograph process could have been a lot better. I guess we can forgive you since Wikipedia was blacked out.

  70. It’s a little like watching Carter enter the Tutenkhamun tomb, from the perspective of Tutenkhamun. And similar to the expressions on my niece’s and nephews faces when I describe the cassette drive on my Commodore 64. (After explaining about cassettes.)

  71. (why my phone submitted in the middle of my post I have no idea)

    so a record plays at constant RPM which means as the record plays, the hills and valleys of the mechanical track change to keep playing the same frequency. On a CD player, the disk has to constantly adjust its RPM so that the data kept coming in at the sam e rate.

    I find it slightly odd that kids would find a needle weird but a laser to be a perfectly normal way to extract data from a physical object.

  72. I don’t why I’m surprised that Athena hadn’t come across LPs earlier in her life–are you sure you’re doing your jobs as parents? –JK ;-)

    I have maintained a moderate record collection that includes several Billy Joel Albums, Foreigner, The Cars, The Beatles, Bob Dylan, The Doors; and bunch of folk, and jazz records appropriated from my parents when I moved out, and a bunch of records from my husband’s grandma which contains Disney story records, jazz, show tunes, Sinatra, and quite likely some Perry Como.

    My 10-year-old is used to the sounds of the occasional vinyl LP, though of course prefers CDs, or digitally downloaded music. My 20-year-olds have their own LP collections –We have a couple of second-hand record shops nearby, plus they like to travel to San Diego and peruse the ones down there.

    BTW, you can easily get a working record player and show her how they sound! I would even be willing to donate an album to you–do you like Perry Como?

  73. For the man on the street, the marvelous thing about CDs was the cleanliness of the recording. Every sound was reproduced to seeming perfection without a single hiss or pop to be heard, with the left and right channels cleanly discriminated. This was completely unlike an old phonograph record, where the medium itself inevitably distorted the recording.

    So the “better sound” of vinyl might be a bit like the “better look” of low theatre-like framerates. You’re used to the inferiority. It’s the way things are supposed to be, not like the digital perfection of a CD or sound file.

    Somebody needs to do a study on the age-distribution of audiophiles.

  74. Greg, lasers are also the best way to extract information from LP Gramophone Records.

    Athena’s right. Needles are weird, primitive technology.

  75. Do kids refer to ‘dialing’ phones and not know why?

    My sister teaches pre-school. One day, the kids were playing with some sort of See-N-Say type machine. When the phone dialing noise was made, the kids (3 & 4’s) thought it was a machine gun.

  76. I, for one, am not surprised that Athena handled the LP the way she did. For one thing, the LP in question was orange and shiny and new, unlike most LPs, which are black, dull, and often show some signs of wear and tear (e.g. scratches). Second, as John has pointed out, that’s how she handles CDs and DVDs. I suspect that she was taught as a small child how to do so by two parents who grew up handling LPs.

    And I agree with Athena about dropping CDs/DVDs. While the format is in many ways superior to LPs and tape, it is a rather fragile technology, especially with home-burned discs (as opposed to pressed store-bought discs). Which at least in part explains the growing popularity of mp3 players (both dedicated devices, or apps for other devices, such as smartphones).

    As for phones, I think that one thing that must increasingly amuse youngsters is the idea that a phone (rotary or touch-tone) used to have to be tethered to the wall in your house by a cord, and that you couldn’t go anywhere in the house with it. Even most landlines these days use cordless phones.

  77. I still have LPs & 45s and a portable record player. I have a PC with a 5.25, 3.5, and CD drives. I keep it around in case I want to transfer older files or play the original Monkey Island. I still have my landline with all but 1 phone tethered(tropical storms & hurricanes are the reason I keep that line). I’m nearing 50, not really am early adopter, but still keep up with the tech since so much has changed in so short a time. It is fun showing the old tech to kids today, especially when it was still polpular not long ago.

  78. I just hate people who are obviously considerably younger than I am saying that they’re old.

    BTW, those Bobby Sherman cereal box (Alpha-bits, wasn’t it?) records came out about the time of Here Come the Brides which also starred a young David Soul years before Starsky and Hutch.

    Yes, that old movie with Ben Stiller and Owen Wilson.

    Lawn. Off. Now!

  79. I would have been tempted to offer a long-winded explanation to Athena of how a record stylus interacts with a groove to make music, but perhaps an animated video can do it better.
    Bonus. It’s RCA proudly announcing STEREO in 1958, so none of us needs to feel old.

  80. I am really tickled by her astonishment – having grown up with LPs and other dinosaur aged technology, I still walk around marveling at how gorram small everything is – I forgot that that’s the norm for folks born more recently! I couldn’t tell from her expression if she thought you were setting her up for something or not, there – I think if I had had a similar conversation with my dad, I would have suspected something. “OK, dad, what is it, really?”

    And, I second this: “Are you going to show her a 5 1/4″ floppy disk?” Let’s really freak out the youth of today! I had a tape drive!

  81. Ok, this really is not meant to be a disrespect but… John, your voice reminds me a lot of ‘Underdog’, the old cartoon.

  82. @hugh57 (sorry, should have included this above; I have an itchy “Enter” finger) – I read an article as a kid entitled “33 1/3 reasons LPs are better than CDs” and on that point, it mentioned that if you sit on a record cover, you straighten the thing out. If you sit on a jewel case, your behind gets embedded with plastic! So there’s another vote for certain durability factors being better on the vinyl side.

  83. This is so delightful that I immediately Shared it on FB. I think it IS that we’re old, though.

    Too bad you didn’t have her shake it. LPs are also rhythm instruments!

  84. Neat. As far as wear and tear goes, I used to buy LPs and then record them onto cassette tapes in order to preserve the LPs. Do I have any of those LPs now? No.

  85. @benwithalink : Take a look at the keyboards these folks sell:

    They use the old IBM buckling-spring keyboard action. Your fingers will break before the keypress action will. Sure, $100 seems like a lot when you can go to MicroCenter and pick up a keyboard for $3.99. But if you like those old IBM clicky keys, or need to kill a burgler by braining him with your keyboard, it’s worth it.

  86. Although the video didn’t make me feel old, I must be old. I miss lps and record players. I also miss rotary phones (and phones that ring like phones are supposed to). And manual typewriters. Someday the power grid will go down and people will wonder where all the manual typewriters went.

  87. Skipping a lot of this, so hopefully not just a “me too” post. But I did think it was funny how some people assume it must be staged if Athena knows how to hold the record, but as I watched it my thought was, well – at least she has enough experience with CDs and DVDs to know how to hold the thing. I know some adults haven’t figured that out yet, but again, people her age probably were told at the age of 3 to stop getting their fingerprints on the DVD so it is much more “ingrained”.

    Anyway – very cool seeing the video. Thank you!

  88. When CDs first came out, a bunch of local broadcast engineers, teens to ancients, were invited to a demo by Sony at a local high-end audio retailer (remember those?) We were given several recordings, had a grand piano to play if we wanted to, several different preamps, equalizers, power amps, and room-sized speaker systems to play the CDs on. (We were not allowed to actually handle the CDs.)

    The first thing we noticed — and everyone noticed this — was that there was no inter-track noise. Stone silent.

    Then the squabbling started. The youngsters (I was in my late twenties) thought the high end was distorted. The grey hairs thought the bass was smooth. No one thought the piano sounded “right”. There were questions as to whether the playback system was doing this; we recorded someone playing “Chopsticks” on 30 IPS audio tape and played it back. Piano sounded better, but there was lots of background hiss. DBX took care of most of that, but then there was that breathing artifact.

    I left thinking “interesting, I hope they fix it”.

    Old tech: fountain pen. Dip pen. Abacus, slide rule, Curta Calculator

  89. Enjoyed the video. Thanks! Laughed a lot out loud. Also I have a box of cassettes and videos in the attic that I want to ‘move on’. Had thought simply to discard them, now thinking to offer them to a museum…

  90. I love how eager she sounds to be shown something she has never seen before. Tre cool.

  91. Hi,

    When “I” went to school, it was 20 miles, uphill both ways! And you had to run fast or the dinosaurs would eat you!!!!!!!!


    Michael H

  92. You know, if you look closely enough — like with a magnifying glass — you can read the music.

  93. My middle daughter (22) just bought a batch of LP’s at the thrift store. We have a turntable, and she has a fairly good collection of her own (we still have our old ones, and she started out with a bunch of Stones and Pink Floyd from a colleague who was converting to newer formats).

    Here’s a great story about a class of journalism students at Florida Atlantic University having to put together an edition of the student paper using pre-1980 tech:

  94. Is there an epidemic of exploding compact discs that I haven’t heard about. I didn’t know the home burned ones are many more fragile than the pressed ones; I haven’t managed to drop one. I have dropped a CD more than 6 feet. The jewel case was damaged, but the CD was fine. I wouldn’t care to drop an LP or an MP3 player that far, particularly since my aging iPod has a hard drive. I expect a cassette would do a bit better in the drop test category.

    Jewel case lids crack easily and the hinges tend to break. But I haven’t really found CDs to be fragile. I tend to judge fragility by whether it will be damaged by reasonably gentle handling. LPs are much more vulnerable to scratches. Cassettes tend to self destruct from time to time, particularly if played in a freezing car before it warms up. Both will wear out even when treated perfectly.

    In the early days, salesmen would step on CDs (of course while laying them flat), to demonstrate their resilience. CDs are fairly resistant to radial scratches. They can be stymied by a particularly greasy finger print but a buffing with a clean cloth will fix it. Their non-fragility is part of the point. CDs are vulnerable to having their metal foil vaporized by massive Tesla coils at SF cons, but that isn’t a common threat environment.

    What makes me crazy are DVD cases that refuse to surrender their payload without a distressing degree of force.

  95. Interesting video, though the eight track had me a bit mystified until they showed the caption. It didn’t look like any I have ever seen. I’m not sure how many people would recognize a CCD video disc even if they were around in the right era. They came and went pretty darned fast.

  96. I note that the kids in the video use ‘CD’ rather than audio numerique. The French language police will be sad.

  97. Now show her the Firesign Theater LP that has THREE sides. (Monty Python did one too — much later).

  98. Mike:

    You’re calling bullshit because she saw there was something inside the sleeve? And she would never have seen, oh, a CD in a sleeve? In her whole life? Because, you know I can go to her room right now and find, like, three.

    You know, these excuses for calling “bullshit” are getting progressively more stupid.

    “I call bullshit! When she viewed the magic disk of sound, she did not drop to her knees in a confused and holy terror!”

    In any event, please stop now. Before I have to mallet someone.

  99. First of all. John, you’re a lucky man. That girl looks far more like her mother every day.

    Second, I still own about 800-1000 LPs and have a somewhat expensive turntable. Last summer, my nephew (who is around Athena’s age) saw it work for the first time. Even though he is a big city kid and exposed to hipsters, he had never seen one in action and was totally amazed.

  100. I remember reading your letter to her when she was away at horse camp and thinking she was lucky to have such a cool dad. After watching that, I think it may be the other way around. :-)

  101. As the previous Mike in the thread, I want to clarify that I’m not making any accusations.

    I guess I really out to get a proper profile for this site.

  102. When CD’s and videodiscs came out, we used to demo their resilience by spreading strawberry jam on them, wiping them off and playing them. People now realise that digital has a hard failure case (suddenly stops working), not a soft failure case like analogue (sounds gradually worse).

  103. Also, I hold CDs and DVD by poking a finger through the centre hole, not by the edges. Is that just me? The CD pits go closer to the edge then the centre, after all. The packaging now makes you press down a latch in the middle so that seems to encourage this.

  104. Next, show her an acoustic coupler modem.

    Explain how it works.

    Explain that there was only one kind of telephone back then, so the suction cups would fit every telephone.

    Then tell her what 300 baud means.

  105. 13 and never seen a record before? Poor sheltered girl. I prefer to play my records when I can. So much warmer. I’d suggest a digital to analog converter for those who really care about the sound of their music and only have digital media and players. Huge difference.

  106. I think I might introduce my girls (11,12, & 14) to LPs, but I it seems appropriate to fashion a portable LP player with a belt clip. Because I think my kids would believe I carried such a thing around on my hip…

  107. Athena is a bright and savvy young lady; it should be no surprise that she holds the LP by the edges. She’d probably do the same thing with a microscope slide in a biology class, etc.

    But you *can* damage an LP by dropping it just once; CDs are much less fragile.

    And, am I the only one who remembers seeing a record that got left on top of a heat radiator? Many musical tragedies in the days of ye olde LP…

  108. Good to know she isn’t a hipster yet or she’d be buying albums for the “vastly superior audio quality.” You should show her a rotary phone so she knows what kind of barbarian lifestyle you led before she came into the world…

  109. I confess I didn’t know what to expect when I saw the reel-to-reel setup for the Whatnot show at Renovation, sitting all alone in the middle of the stage. How many in the audience would recognize it and understand its use?

    My fears, of course, were unfounded. The audience figured it out just fine. As did Athena with the LP.

    Freaking great puppetry/performance art show, BTW. Would pay to see it again!

  110. I listen to LPs nearly every day. They don’t wear out (if properly cared for and played on decent equipment). They sound fantastic (did you know that there is an order of magnitude *more* information on an LP than a CD — that is why LPs are a true, high-definition source). While there are some artifacts typical to LP, they are mostly benign to the engagement of the mind and enjoyment factor – unlike most digital, whose artifacts mostly prevent a deep and satisfying engagement. My 7 and 4 year olds have known records their entire lives and are better for it. Playing Lego and spinning records is the family weekend tradition! Cheers. – Pete –

  111. Funny. I remember cleaning out my Grandma’s house after she passed on and hauling boxes of stuff off to charity. My 4 or 5 year old son looked through a box, picked up an LP and said, “Look Mom, huge CD’s!” This was way back in the 90’s. Ah, technology!

  112. Pete Roth: ” there is an order of magnitude *more* information on an LP than a CD”

    That’s not true, but it’s hard to say if it’s an understatement or an overstatement. A digital recording contains a fixed, countable amount of information — the number of bits. On an LP, the information content is encoded in the physical configuration of the material in the groove, which means that there’s information all the way down to the atomic level, the position of every atom/molecule. That’s a HUGE amount of information — exa- or yottabytes compared to the megabytes of the digital encoding.

    The question is, how much of that information gets through the chain of mechanisms from LP to brain? Needle, cartridge, (wires), pre-amp, amp, (wires), speakers, soundwaves, ears, auditory nerves; they’re all bandwidth filters/limiters of one kind or another (I used to design sonar systems at NRL). It’s an argument for another time whether the information that arrives in the brain of the listener is greater for a CD or LP.

    Note that in the terms I’ve defined here, your statement that “(LPs) don’t wear out” is obviously false. The needle knocks those atoms around pretty good, changing the encoded information. Of course it’s possible that the change caused by a given number of plays is too small to make it through all those bandwidth filters.

  113. Kathy Mattea back in 1992 put on one of her LPs a song written by Steve Key that talks about people feeling obsolete because of technical change, the economy, etc. The song is entitled “33 45 78” and has some great lyrics. This is Steve Key’s version of his own song (Kathy Mattea’s version is also easy to find):

  114. a bartender recently gave my daughter (9) a Sony tape walkman to look over. And it was the wicked cool sports one, that was yellow and kind of sort of waterproof! She had no flippin’ idea what in hell the thing was…

  115. Pete: I listen to LPs nearly every day.

    Hi Pete. I’m a chip designer who spent some chunk of my career working on CD player/burner chips.

    They sound fantastic

    Since there are link limits per post here, I’m going to post this link

    ANd then ask you to look at the link in the first reply. It’s “the world is”. ANd the gist of it is this: Engineers tried building turntables for vinyl records that used lasers for needles. But they stopped doing it. Why? Because lasers were TOO SENSITIVE and were picking up every scratch and spec of dust in the track where as the mechanical needle would simply skip over the dust. But that also means that if the needle ignored dust and scratches, it must also ignore some of the actual audio signal.

    That is the key problem with analog. There is no way to separate the noise from the signal. All you can do is make the signal much larger than the noise so that the noise isn’t “noticable”. But the noise is always there. Digital doesn’t have to have noise in the storage or transfer. It will have noise in the amplifier, but that amount of noise will be the same whether the original signal was vinyl or CD.

    (did you know that there is an order of magnitude *more* information on an LP than a CD — that is why LPs are a true, high-definition source).

    No, there isn’t. which is explained in the post of the link above. There is mechanical “noise” in the analog track that is a vinyl record. The hills and valleys of the track are designed to give the original signal, but as dust accumulates, as scratches accumulate, as the needle wears the track, all those bits of mechanical effects shift and move the hills and valleys from their original position and appear as noise in the analog signal.

    While there are some artifacts typical to LP, they are mostly benign to the engagement of the mind and enjoyment factor – unlike most digital, whose artifacts mostly prevent a deep and satisfying engagement.

    Again, read the link above. The only “artifact” in a compact disk comes from the 44khz sample rate. Which gives a maximum audio frequency of 22khz. If you go to the link below:

    You will find audio samples of frequencies up to 22khz. Try a lower frequency first to adjust the volume on your computer speakers, then try the 22khz and tell me if you can hear it. I can’t. Most people can’t. If you can’t, then sampling more than 44khz is wasted and any frequencies in the vinyl record that go above 22khz is a waste of the mechanical channel anyway.

    If you CAN hear it, then you should be able to tell that a CD has more noise than an LP.

    On the other hand, CD’s come with significant error correction. In fact they have a LOT of error correction. every 24 bytes of audio carries an extra 9 bytes of error correction bytes. This error correction allows for the original data to be recovered even if individual bits have been mangled by wear and tear of the disk. Data for a single sample is physically spread out at different locations along the track and interleaved with samples before and after it.

    This means that if you scratch the disk along a “spoke” of the disk with something thin like a sewing needle, you won’t wipe out several audio samples of a chunk of music. Rather you will most likely wipe out only 1 bit of many samples over time, and the error correction can completely correct for that lost bit so that the original audio is reproduced exactly.

    Error correction means that at least up to a point, a CD doesn’t accumulate any noise due to scratches, smudges, or mechanical wear and tear.

    LP’s on the other hand, any scratch is irrecoverable. A scratch can never be repaired because it is impossible to determine what the original physical track was supposed to look like. There is no error correction.

    When compareing CD’s to LP’s using any sort of objective, engineering test equipment, CD’s are remarkably more accurate than LP’s at reproducing the original audio track. Usually, what happens is that “audiophiles” will insist that subjective tests say that the LP sounds better. They often use the term “warmer” or “fuller”. When this is used to describe how tube amps are better than transistors, the objective test equipment will show that tube amps actually distort the signal more, often adding harmonics to the original signal. And when you add harmonics, the signal often occurs as “warmer” to the audiophile. But that’s distorting the original signal. With CD’s versus LP’s, what is usually described as “fuller” really means that all the white noise that the LP adds due to mechanical noise of the track and needle, all that noise has been removed by the CD, so to the audiophile (non-engineer), it may sound like the audio is “missing” something they are used to hearing, but really what happened is the vinyl *added* something, mainly white noise which fills the entire frequency spectrum.

    My 7 and 4 year olds have known records their entire lives and are better for it. Playing Lego and spinning records is the family weekend tradition!

    Spending time with your kids is great. And if you want to play vinyl records, that’s your choice as well.

    But teaching your kids what essentially boils down to bad observation skills isn’t going to help them if they ever go into the hard sciences.

    The notion that LP’s are better than CD’s is about as scientifically valid as people saying they have to have 10,000 dollar speaker cables to get really good quality audio.

    I don’t know why exactly this urban legend about LP’s persists. It’s very odd to me and very arbitrary as far as I can tell. Another product I spent some time working on was high definition TV chips. Those products are also digital versions of older analogue standards. And you don’t hear anyone ever saying that analogue TV is better than HDTV. And you certainly don’t ever hear anyone arguing that you should only watch video on a television set that uses tubes.

    I’m old enough that I actually watched shows on a TV that used tubes. The quality sucked compared to transistors and sucked even more when compared to digital sets. No one in their right mind would ever argue that analog tube TV’s are better than digital HDTV sets. Is the image of a tube TV somehow “warmer” than a transistor TV? Absolutely not. Well, except for literally the tubes get a lot hotter than the transistors, but any signal to noise test will confirm that the tubes are less accurate than transistors, and transistors are less accurate than digital.

    But for some reason, people insist on arguing that analog vinyl records played with a mechanical needle is somehow “better” than a digital compact disc with interleaved error correction, even though none of the objective tests ever support it.

    When folks say an LP sounds “fuller” or “warmer” or “richer” than a CD, what that usually translates into on objective test equipment is that the LP had *noise* and that noise is missing on the CD, which the audiophile then percieves as the CD has something missing. But really, the LP has noise added.

  116. Local talk radio (“Ring My Belle” segment of the Ron & Don Show on 97.3 Seattle) played an excerpt of the video on this afternoon’s broadcast: My Belle

    It’s described as “A youtube of a father presenting a record to his teenage daughter. She has no idea what it is or how it works.” Then Ron & Don argued whether it was staged or authentic.

  117. Heard the video last night on AM talk radio – specifically the Bill Leff show on WGN AM. They were riffing off it to talk about technology of yesteryear that would freak out people today. He and his on air staff too argued over staged or authentic.

  118. I bet they just couldn’t believe how articulate Athena is. I find it a little startling myself, and I’m used to it.

  119. @Greg

    You will find audio samples of frequencies up to 22khz. Try a lower frequency first to adjust the volume on your computer speakers, then try the 22khz and tell me if you can hear it. I can’t. Most people can’t. If you can’t, then sampling more than 44khz is wasted and any frequencies in the vinyl record that go above 22khz is a waste of the mechanical channel anyway.

    This is actually incorrect. The sample rate of a CD (44.1kHz) does not refer to audio frequency, but to the number of times per second sound waves are sampled. A CD uses 16 bits, 44,100 times per second to approximate sound. Digital video, as an example, uses 48,000 samples. Recording studios will often record in 88.1kHz for music or 96kHz for film and video purposes. It allows for greater manipulation of the sound wave afterward without introducing artifacting.

    Just a little technical FYI.

  120. Joe, no, Nyquist sampling theorem says you’re wrong.

    If you sample at 44khz, then the highest frequency in the original analog signal you can capture and reproduce is 22khz.

    The key word you used is *manipulation*. If you’re going to do mathematical algorithms on audio, like frequency shifting stuff to get the drum beat to be exactly accurate (which then allows you to mix and match, cut and paste, tracks from different parts of a song and put them in other parts, without having ot worry about the beat being slightly slower or faster, then yeah, you’ll probably want a higher sampling frequency.

    But that’s like saying if you want to do photoshop on an image, you probably want to start with a lot more resolution than you’ll end up with.

    If you’re doing strictly an analog-to-digital capture of a signal, then if you sample at 44khz, then you can capture up to a 22khz signal, and it will replay that exact signal back.

    Another point is that recording studios will sometimes record at higher frequencies so that they can down convert to different media without creating weird artifacts in the sound. As you mentioned, different formats use different frequencies. If you want to make ONE RECORDING that can be converted to ALL FORMATS, then the best recording frequency would be some frequency that is an integer multiple of all the possible playback frequencies.

    This is why you would want a flat screen TV that has a refresh rate like 120 frames per second or faster. Film is 24 fps. TV is 30 fps. The slowest rate that is an integer multiple of both those rates is 120. Anything slower and you get weird visual artifacts that die-hards hate.

    If you record audio, you want to record at a rate that will convert nice and easy to all the different destination formats, audio CD, movies, tv, whatever. So, it is useful to record at a high enough frequency that you can convert down to your final rate without creating artefacts.

    But once you downconvert that audio to a 44khz sample rate CD, you will be able to hear up to a 22khz audio signal on the output.

  121. Hey John,
    I was surprised while listening to my morning radio that they picked this video as one to watch. They probably even have a link to it on their website. It was on the Keven and Bean show on KROQ radio in Los Angeles.

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