from stock tickers to radios to mirrors

From: Eirikur Hallgrimsson (
Date: Tue Feb 27 2001 - 07:37:26 PST

I'm an inveterate designer. Strata's note about the updated vintage
stockticker reminded me of one of the
businesses that I conceived but do not operate: Victorian Technologies, Inc.

VTI would be the purveyor of fine Mahogany/Brass CD players, with mechanical
readouts, etc. There'd also be radios, I expect, with magic-eye displays of
some kind. Basically stuff that you could have sitting on your nice
furniture without looking like plastic junk. All constructed for the ages
like 19th-century British scientific expedition gear.

The problem with this idea as a business is that small production runs make
for hideous costs, and the materials cost would be significant. Wood and
brass cost more than plastic, and have to be assembled rather than molded.
This idea is basically on hold until nano-santa arrives.

I am interested to see that as far as vintage electronic reproductions go,
retro-radios are doing pretty good volume. The interesting thing is that
as reproductions, most of them are completely awful, and not anything that a
person with eyes (or ears) would confuse with the originals.
How is it that downright POOR reproductions sell in such volume? Price
must be a primary consideration and the customers much not have a good idea
of what the originals are like. Retro-radios are always scaled-down in size
and the materials and fit/finish are junk. They add pointless new electronic
features (play cassettes) but have pathetic sound quality from tiny speakers
and trash circuitry. I have handled tube radios from the heyday of such, and
many of them have that 19th-century build-quality I spoke of above. I
suppose there is a selection factor at work, the junky or ugly ones were
thrown out when they failed.

I wish my musical-abstraction ergonomic synthesizer keyboard wasn't in the
same fix. Classically, music synthesizers put knobs into "interesting"
places in the sound generation architecture, but this is a totally backwards
approach. I would define (and probably have to do user-testing)
timbre-related musical abstractions and coerce the architecture into
accepting them. Someday, I'll have to prototype in software. The 'product'
would have to be a physical device, since the goal is to remove the
requirement for mental context-switching into technical/scientific mode and
you really can't avoid that if your instrument is a laptop triggered by a
MIDI keyboard. Having a "grunt" knob, should be a lot easier than trying to
concieve how to add or remove grunt by manipulating a user-interface that is
just knobs dropped into convenient places in the algorithm.

On the subject of retro-tech... I want my bathroom mirror to have a faint
overlay of the CNN homepage (or better, a customized news page).


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